Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Jews, Napoleon and the Ottoman Empire: the 1797-9 Proclamations to the Jews

While campaigning in Israel in 1799 did Napoleon write one or more proclamations to the Jews? In our own century, historians are evenly divided. But, the deeper story is not simply whether he did so while in Israel, but also his earlier proclamations to the Jews, similarly issued as propaganda to destroy the Ottoman Empire. Thus, a neglected Ottoman-Turkish source says there was already in the Muslim year 1212 (1797-1798) a revolutionary proclamation inviting Jews to "establish a Jewish government in Jerusalem" (قدس شريفده بر يهود حكومتى تشكيل). Based on April 1799 reports from Constantinople, at least seventeen European newspapers in May 1799 described a Napoleon proclamation inviting Jews to return to Jerusalem. This astonishing news was universally believed in 1799. Napoleon's evocation of aboriginal restoration echoed for decades in relation to an age-old People that for millennia always kept demographic and cultural ties to the Holy Land. There is also much to suggest that Napoleon perhaps wrote the 1798 "Letter from a Jew to His Brothers" calling on world Jewry to organize itself in order to ask France to negotiate with Turkey, so that the Jews could return to their native land. Finally, first revealed in 1940 was a 1799 German-language translation of an alleged Napoleon letter recognizing the hereditary right of the "Israelites" to "Palestine."

Allen Z. Hertz was senior advisor in the Privy Council Office serving Canada's Prime Minister and the federal cabinet. He formerly worked in Canada's Foreign Affairs Department and earlier taught history and law at universities in New York, Montreal, Toronto and Hong Kong. He studied European history and languages at McGill University (B.A.) and then East European and Ottoman history at Columbia University (M.A., Ph.D.). He also has international law degrees from Cambridge University (LL.B.) and the University of Toronto (LL.M.).

[This text is current to October 15, 2019.]


A. "The Great Nation" and the self-determination of Peoples

Jacques Godechot's important book, La grande nation, l'expansion révolutionnaire de la France dans le monde 1789-1799 (The Great Nation: The Revolutionary Expansion of France in the World) was first published in 1956. In a thoughtful review, University of Paris, Professor of French History, Marcel Reinhard observed with regard to the August 26, 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1958):
The rights defined in 1789 were those of every man, of every citizen, and they were, despite some opposition, also recognized as applying to Jews and Blacks. And as such, they also passed onto the world stage. Thus, the concept of national sovereignty wasn't simply the privilege of the French nation, but was a natural and imprescriptible right recognized for every nation.
Reinhard's international assessment was not just an ex post facto judgment, but was often expressed in the 1790s. Then, it was integral to the key notion of la grande nation. This referred to the great French People which was literally big, because numbering 27 million at a time when the USA had only 5.3 million and the British Isles 15.7 million.

Ideologically, la grande nation was deemed to be, spiritually and materially, older brother to other fraternal Peoples, including the Jewish People. And, the Revolutionary French Republic was imagined as entitled to senior status in relation to other actual or imminent sister republics. These satellite States might potentially include a Jewish Republic (République judaïque or hébraïque) in the Holy Land, and maybe also revolutionary regimes in Ireland and Canada.

The modern comparison would be to the global leadership once claimed by Soviet Russia among Communist countries. Moreover, the Soviet Marxists judged the eventual global triumph of communism to be an historical necessity. So too, the 18th-century French revolutionaries believed that, both domestically and internationally, the march of history was inevitably in their preferred direction. According to Minister of External Relations, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (February 14, 1798): "It is the spirit of liberty that spreads itself happily in all the States of Europe, and which, it seems to me, must entirely conquer them in a few years."

Consider the example of the Corsican-born Greek Maniote, Dimo Stephanopoulos, whom Napoleon sent as revolutionary emissary to the Morea (Peloponnese), then under Turkish rule. There, Dimo expounded at a late 1797 secret meeting, at Marathonissi in the Mani, with patriots from several parts of Greece. According to Dimo, the French Revolution had universal meaning that extended not only to the Greeks, but also to all the other subject Peoples of the Ottoman Empire (1799):
Learn what has happened in the new Athens. The French People has destroyed its tyrants and has given itself laws. These laws propagate themselves with regard to all the Peoples. Man, they say, was born and must live in freedom (libre). We [the Peoples] are all equal and must constitute nothing less than a single family of brothers. [...] Buonaparte will come all the way to Constantinople to plant the tree of liberty.

B. The French Revolution ends; Roman Catholicism returns

Just as China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) brought an end to the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1978, so in November 1799 Napoleon terminated the decade-long French Revolution which had been bitterly anti-Roman Catholic. In France, some Catholics had stubbornly sustained regional insurrections against the revolutionary regime, throughout the period of the Directory (1795-9). For both Deng and Napoleon, ending the revolution meant an astonishing ideological evolution over a relatively short period of time.

In this context, Napoleon's views of Jews, Judaism and the Jewish People were significantly different during and after the French Revolution. As a revolutionary, Napoleon naturally recognized the peoplehood of the Jews, just as he did that of the Greeks. But once the French Revolution was over, he mostly lost interest in Jews as a sovereign People with an ancient homeland, inter alia, because ending the revolution famously meant reconciling with Roman Catholics. Certainly, Napoleon understood that the Roman-Catholic Church theologically despised Jews and has historically always wanted Jerusalem for itself. To the point, Catholics have for many centuries claimed that, by virtue of Jesus, they had become the real "people Israel," and thus there was no longer any divine covenant with Jews for the Holy Land (supersessionism).

C. Destruction of documents about Jews

Napoleon personally generated around 33,000 letters and myriad other papers. Although a great mass of his product survives, many items were lost in the normal course of events. In addition, for political and/or personal reasons, Napoleon was in the habit of purposely destroying or even falsifying documents. For example, First Consul Bonaparte ordered a great number of records removed from the archives in 1802. While he was Emperor (1804-1815), these and other documents were burned at his command, as in September 1807. Many of those disappeared pieces related to the 1798-9 Mideast campaign. Such destruction of historical material is directly pertinent, because his earlier expressions of sympathy for Jewish peoplehood and homeland, became for the new "Emperor of the French" an embarrassment to be cleverly spun, or even better, concealed and forgotten.

During the reign (1852-1870) of his nephew Napoleon III, some more of the uncle's documents were intentionally destroyed, including because they were judged to be strongly offensive to Roman-Catholic feeling. A Catholic (perhaps even ultramontane) perspective was consistently championed by the devout Empress Eugénie who regularly attended cabinet meetings. She would probably have seen any archival confirmation of Napoleon the Great's revolutionary proclamations promising Jews Jerusalem, as seriously damaging the Bonaparte dynasty's brand among Catholics in France, Europe and the Mideast. If so, such a political calculation would have been rational. At that time, many Catholics worldwide still strongly believed that Jewish emancipation domestically and Jewish peoplehood internationally were subversive revolutionary principles attacking Christianity.

The very same logic had already been adopted by the Greek-Orthodox Church -- not only with respect to Jewish emancipation, peoplehood and homeland -- but also with regard to the popular rights of the Greeks themselves. Thus, as early as 1798, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was energetically backing the Turks against pro-French, Hellenic revolutionaries like Rigas Feraios (Ρήγας Φεραίος). Let it be remembered that the reactionary Austrians (the Habsburg Monarchy) arrested Rigas for "serious political crimes" and then heartlessly extradited him to Ottoman Belgrade, where the Turks killed him in June 1798.

Under the revolutionary slogan "liberty, equality and fraternity," the historic, inflammatory Rigas proclamation was printed in Vienna in Greek (1797) by the thousands, and then widely read in the Ottoman Balkans. But, not a single one of this original printing can be found today. Several thousand of these proclamations were destroyed by the Habsburg authorities. And, the Orthodox Church systematically collected and burned the printed Rigas proclamations found in the Ottoman Empire. All that is now left to us of the text of the famous Rigas proclamation stems from one handwritten document. This is the police/judicial translation into German that is preserved in the Austrian State Archives. Can we be surprised if, as explained below, the text of Napoleon's proclamations to the Jews met a similar fate in the grim struggle between revolution and reaction?

Here our answer must also be informed by the Habsburg intelligence service, the Polizeihofstelle in Vienna. On October 7, 1806, the Imperial Court Chamberlain and Police Minister, the arch-conservative Baron Joseph Thaddäus von Sumerau, ordered local officials throughout the Habsburg lands to gather for eventual burning, all materials relating to the invitations to the synagogues of Europe, to send delegates to Paris for Napoleon's Grand Sanhedrin (February 9, 1807). Did this special Austrian police operation perhaps also net some copies of Napoleon's earlier proclamations to the Jews? Or is this 1806 police effort just a contemporary example proving that, in those days, the Habsburg security services did in fact set about systematically collecting and destroying Napoleon documents addressed to the Jews?


The early 19th century generally accepted that Napoleon had indeed issued a proclamation inviting the Jews to return to their ancestral homeland. But during the last one hundred years, the astonishing progress of practical, political Zionism has given opponents incentive to reject the historicity of the one or more messages which the 29-year-old revolutionary general is said to have sent to the Jewish People, during his 1799 campaign in the Holy Land. This territory was then included within the 18th-century French understanding of Greater or Ottoman Syria, where Napoleon himself judged "Jews were quite numerous."

Napoleon was hungry for glory. From youth invoking the names of the great men of ancient history, he regularly included the storied Achaemenid ruler Cyrus the Great (d. 530 BCE) who famously sent Jews back to their homeland and authorized the building of the Second Temple. "I am Cyrus," said former USA President Harry Truman in 1953 when, five years after the fact, he was trying to take full credit for creating the State of Israel. Exactly like Truman, the Napoleon of 1797-9 felt the weight of both history and posterity.

This probably made it easy for him to grasp that helping the Jews return to their ancestral homeland would be the kind of deed likely to win him lasting fame. Pertinently, Napoleon claimed to have (December 19, 1798): "respect for Moses and the Jewish People, the cosmogony of which takes us back to the earliest times" (respect pour Moïse et la nation juive, dont la cosmogonie nous retrace les âges les plus reculés).

Such deference to biblical Jews was exact counterpart to his respect for the ancient Greeks. In exile on Saint Helena (1815-1821), he reminisced about his revolutionary enthusiasm for freeing the Greeks: "What glory to him who will liberate Greece! His name will be engraved beside that of Homer, Plato and Epaminondas. I nourished such a hope when [in 1796-7] I was fighting in Italy."

Significantly, the two different territories that had once been ancient Greece and the biblical "Land of Israel" (Heb: אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬ Eretz Yisrael) were then both part of the Ottoman Empire, with its capital in Constantinople. Also called Turkey, this State then dominated most of the Near and Mideast. It was ruled by the Ottoman Sultan who was importantly also the Sunnite Muslim caliph. Though ultimately mistaken, Napoleon was (August 16, 1797) dead certain that the Ottoman Empire would fall during his lifetime.

Posthumous portrait of Napoleon's father Carlo Buonaparte.
He graduated as a Doctor in Law from the University of Pisa.
The Buonapartes were a cosmopolitan, noble family that spoke

proper Italian and always kept ties with their ancestral Tuscany.

Man of the Mediterranean

Napoleon was born a subject of France's King Louis XV, because just before Napoleon's birth (August 15, 1769) in Ajaccio, the French took control of the island of Corsica that for centuries had been linked with Genoa. But by origin, little "Napoleone" was ethnically 100% Italian, though eventually he became the most prominent French revolutionary. He was son of a noble Tuscan family that always kept ties to the Italian mainland. For example, his politically talented father Carlo and his older brother Giuseppe both graduated from the University of Pisa, where some Jewish students were also studying.

The circumstance that the Buonapartes were generally sophisticated and cosmopolitan matches the role of Italian as the main Mediterranean language of diplomacy from the 15th to the 17th century. In the 18th-century, Italian plays somewhat less of a role in diplomacy, but nonetheless remains the Mediterranean's principal, international language of navigation, coastal business, and translation; and even more so, immediately after 1789, when France's trade, merchant marine, and naval power are diminished due to prolonged revolutionary turmoil. From the late Middle Ages until the early 19th century, Italian is the "foreign" tongue most widespread in the Eastern Mediterranean, where it was also one of the languages commonly used by Jews.

Napoleon's first language is Italian. Into his tenth year, his primary-school education is also in Italian. After seven years of nothing but French, he regains fluency in his mother tongue from 1787, during successive periods of leave on Corsica. There, he speaks and writes, also partly in Italian, during the revolutionary unrest of 1792. He spends 1796-7 fighting in Italy, where he has ample opportunity to use Italian. For example, probably originally written in Italian is his order appointing the members of the new Ancona municipality (February 10, 1797). By contrast, likely just for the official record is the later French translation (February 12, 1797) which carelessly omits two of the names. By 1798, Napoleon is at the very least virtually bilingual, as in Egypt, where he stipulates that secretary-interpreters can write to him in French or Italian (July 30, 1798).

The important point is that Napoleon grew to manhood knowing much about the many different Peoples, languages and religions of the Mediterranean. He was also able to use Italian to speak directly to Mediterranean Jews and Greeks.

At the start of the French Revolution, he initially wanted for Corsicans, sovereign independence arising from the new political doctrine of the self-determination of Peoples. In the same way, he understood Jews and Greeks as storied, age-old Peoples, then living partly under Ottoman rule and partly in broader diaspora. From his revolutionary perspective, he was confident that, whether with regard to Jews or Greeks, the "spirit of liberty" ensured that national awakening was already on the horizon.

"All the religions are equal"

The French Revolution (1789-1799) was all about rejecting the heritage of the Middle Ages. Then, Western civilization had been literally synonymous with the Roman-Catholic Church. A true son of the Revolution, Napoleon in the 1790s was resolutely anticlerical. This mostly means that he strongly opposed the universalist pretensions of the Catholic Church. Thus, he vigorously championed the new idea that all the religions are equal, both internationally and domestically. This "equality" principle is cosmetic, but logically accommodates the three fundamental, revolutionary propositions that all the particular, historical religions are equally: subject to the civil power; mistaken; and destined to be canceled by progressive enlightenment.

As First Consul, Emperor, and then in exile, Napoleon became markedly more respectful of Catholicism. But, the younger, revolutionary Napoleon ideologically imagined that growing international enthusiasm for the "spirit of liberty" would eventually sweep away the prejudice of longstanding religious attachments (August 16, 1797):
The fanaticism for freedom, which has already started to spread in [Orthodox] Greece, will be more powerful there than the fanaticism of religion. There, le grand peuple [the Revolutionary French Nation] will find more friends than will the [Orthodox] Russian people.
But, this younger Napoleon had underestimated the endurance and hostility of Greek Orthodoxy. For example, consider the Republic's brief occupation and annexation (1797-9) of the (formerly Venetian) Ionian Islands, off the coast of Greece. There, French revolutionaries openly scorned the illiteracy and superstitious, religious fanaticism of the mostly Orthodox population. And for their part, the Orthodox islanders were profoundly alienated by the sudden intrusion of revolutionary secularism. For example, they were scandalized that the French revolutionaries regularly refused last rites and were buried without crosses.

Sincere outrage was also sparked by revolutionary emancipation of the islands' Jews who were deeply despised by the local Christians, whether Orthodox or Catholic. Sent to the Ionian Islands to craft anti-Ottoman propaganda and to organize the provisional government, Antoine-Vincent Arnault reported back to Napoleon that antisemitism was exploited to spark reactionary resistance to French rule (September 16, 1797): "On Corfu, hatred for the Jews was used as a way to encourage the people to revolt" (à Corfou on avait tenté de porter le peuple à la révolte, en profitant de sa haine contre les juifs).

As General-in-Chief of France's Army of Italy, l'armée d'Italie (1796-7), Napoleon repeatedly pointed to the need for the Revolutionary French Republic to take control of Egypt. According to the London Evening Mail (July 15-18, 1798), Napoleon in 1797 borrowed all the Mideast books from the Milan Public Library. Despite such extensive study in both Italian and French, he was gravely mistaken in optimistically anticipating that France would be able to win the loyalty of Muslims, via enlightened, revolutionary government. Consequently, he was also wrong to think that he would easily find large numbers of Muslim recruits for his future Army of the East, l'armée d'Orient (September 13, 1797):
With [revolutionary] armies like ours, for which all the religions are equal -- Muslims, Copts, Arabs, idolators, etc. -- all of that is completely irrelevant; we would respect the one just like the others.
"All the religions are equal" was still his principle aboard his flagship sailing from Malta to Alexandria. Then, he instructed his troops to be tolerant and respectful of Islam, with significant comparisons that by design thrice referred to Judaism ahead of Christianity (June 22, 1798):
Act toward them [the Muslims] as we have acted toward the Jews and the [Roman-Catholic] Italians; respect their muftis and their imams as you have the rabbis and the bishops. Have for the rites required by the Koran, for the mosques, the same tolerance that you have had for the convents, for the synagogues, for the religion of Moses and for that of Jesus Christ. The [ancient] Roman legions protected all the religions.
Just as in Greece, so too in the Mideast, Napoleon was eventually to learn some practical lessons about the stubborn staying power of religion. In July 1798, he arrived in Egypt thinking that it would be easy to co-opt Muslims with philo-Islamic proclamations and letters, and public ceremonies celebrating the Prophet Muhammad. But hard experience soon proved otherwise -- even though Napoleon: recognized a special role for Islam in the government of Egypt; repeatedly denied the divinity of Christ; and tried hard to convince Mideast Muslims that he was not just another Catholic Crusader.

Young, thin, intense, hyperactive, super-intelligent, inventive, irreverent,
cynical and ambitious, French Revolutionary General Napoleon Bonaparte
in Egypt and Ottoman Syria, 1798-9. Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1868).

Jews: a distinct People with a specific religion

Napoleon always saw Jews both as practitioners of a particular religion and simultaneously as a famous People of world history. On Saint Helena, his Italian-speaking, Irish physician, Barry Edward O'Meara significantly asked Napoleon about "his reasons for having encouraged the Jews so much." Napoleon replied in Italian, "There were a great many Jews in the countries I reigned over."

As First Consul of the Republic, he had already told the Council of State (June 1801): "Quant aux juifs, c'est une nation à part" (as for the Jews, they are a nation apart). On Saint Helena, he replied to O'Meara in Italian, using the word "nation" (and also "tribe") to describe the Jews. But, Napoleon also saw them as fellow citizens who happened to practice the religion of Judaism.

Such shared citizenship allowed Napoleon to segue to the topic of laïcisme, his revolutionary ideas about the separation of Church and State. Thus, O'Meara was privileged to listen to Napoleon, speaking in Italian, describe the secularist thoughts that best matched his anticlerical stance, with regard to Italy from 1796 to 1798 (first published 1822):
I wanted to establish a universal liberty of conscience. My system was to have no predominant religion, but to allow perfect liberty of conscience and of thought, to make all men equal, whether Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Deists or others. [...] My intention was to render everything belonging to the state and the constitution, purely civil, without reference to any religion. I wished to deprive the [Catholic] priests of all influence and power in civil affairs, and to oblige them to confine themselves to their own spiritual matters, and meddle with nothing else.
Napoleon's own propaganda organ, Le Courrier de l'Armée d'Italie, in August and September 1797, repeatedly opposed exclusive, dominant or special privileges for the Catholic Church which was tarred as fanatical and intolerant. In the same vein, Talleyrand (formerly a Bishop) explained to the Directory (November 5, 1797): "The disfavor in which the Catholic religion (le culte catholique) finds itself in [public] opinion is a natural consequence of the opposition which has always existed between it and the republican system."

Le Courrier de l'Armée d'Italie regularly advocated equality of all the particular "cults" (including Judaism) under the required supremacy of the secular law, as authorized by a republican constitution. This equality principle was also the cumulative effect of specific provisions that Napoleon had recently inserted in the Constitution of the Cisalpine Republic, with its capital in Milan. He signed the Cisalpine constitution on July 8, 1797, as "Bonaparte, in the name of the French Republic."

Therein, everybody had a new constitutional right to practice the religion of his own free choice. Compulsory financial contributions (tithing) to support any faith were prohibited. Religious ministers of all the cults were excluded from government, whether as legislators or officials. Nor could ministers of any faith exercise their religious functions, if by "demerit" they had lost the confidence of the revolutionary government. Ecclesiastical censorship was abolished. This last provision was extremely important in Italy, where the Catholic Inquisition was, during the 18th century, still arbitrarily banning, expurgating and revising Hebrew books and manuscripts.

Especially in the Italian context, these constitutional measures were breathtaking. Certainly, they provoked deep dismay and hot anger among many hundreds of thousands of reactionaries in Italy. These 1797 revolutionary reforms literally disempowered Italian Catholicism and thus suddenly enhanced the rights of Jews and Judaism; but only for a short time, until the widespread pogroms (1798-9) of the triumphant counter-revolution in Italy.

Jews in the late revolutionary period

A renewed focus on Jewish rights emerged several years after revolutionaries had executed (January 21, 1793) Louis XVI, King of France. The contemporary context was the eve of the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1802), pitting several European monarchies and the Ottoman Empire against the Revolutionary French Republic (la grande nation) and its satellite republics. Then, revolutionary and republican rhetoric still trumpeted the new political principle of the self-determination of Peoples. Later we shall see abundant evidence that in 1798-9 prominent revolutionaries, exactly because they were doctrinally so hostile to the Catholic Church, were all the readier to see the Jews as an age-old and famous People "bent under the yoke of princes."

While other French generals were doing likewise in parts of Germany, Napoleon implemented key revolutionary ideology by emancipating the Jews of Italy. Specifically, he abolished the ghettos (1796-7) during his spectacular conquest of the Italian peninsula and the Venetian islands of the Ionian Sea, close to Greece. Suddenly, Jews in Italy and on the Ionian Islands got equal rights of citizenship and immediately began participating in the new order as soldiers, sailors, officials, envoys, emissaries, agents and spies.

The revolutionary human-rights agenda was also international. Thus, the Minister of External Relations, Charles Delacroix wrote to Napoleon and General Henry Jacques Clarke about their ongoing negotiations with the reactionary Austrians in Italy. Specifically, Delacroix says the Executive Directory wants them to seek release from Austrian jails of two political prisoners, neither Jewish. The first is prominent Polish revolutionary "Hugues Kolloutay" (Hugo Kołłątaj), held in Olmütz. According to Delacroix (July 6, 1797): "The second is [Scipione] Piattoli, a distinguished Italian man of letters, for six years imprisoned in Prague, for having written about the necessity to accord civil rights to the Jews and to the third-estate."

In the late 1790s, the revolutionary press was mostly philosemitic. The tendency was to portray Jews positively, including as soldiers and sailors fighting for the Revolutionary French Republic. This aspect was confirmed by Napoleon on Saint Helena. There, speaking Italian, he told O'Meara that emancipating the Jews had provided him with "many soldiers." For better or worse, Jews were then perceived as partisans of the Revolution which was, at the same time, characteristically anti-Catholic.

France marches east!

Legislator and diplomat, François Barbé-Marbois, on June 26, 1797, spoke to the Republic's upper chamber, le Conseil des Anciens about secret agents and the conduct of France's foreign relations, as reported in the Directory's mouthpiece, the Paris daily newspaper, Le Moniteur (July 2, 1797):
The most important operations are consummated, not in his [Minister of External Relations] offices, but rather under the tent of the generals of the Republic. That is to say, it is the bayonet that cuts the quills of our policies, and it is the War Department that picks up the expense of our negotiations.
From mid 1797, General Bonaparte became the Ottoman Empire's next-door neighbor in the region of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas -- pertinently including Ancona (Italy); the Ionian Islands; and enclaves on the Balkan coast at Butrinto, Parga, Preveza and Vonizza. There, la division française du Levant (French division of the Levant) was under the command of Napoleon as General-in-Chief of the Army of Italy. Napoleon shared his strategic insight with the Directory (August 16, 1797):
The islands of Corfu, Zante and Cephalonia are of greater interest for us than all of Italy combined. I believe that, if we were forced to choose, it would be better to restore Italy to the [Habsburg] Emperor and keep the four islands which are a source of wealth and prosperity for our commerce. The empire of the Turks is crumbling day by day; the possession of these islands will put us in a position to support it as long as that will be possible, or to take our share of it.
Napoleon's mouthpiece Le Courrier de l'Armée d'Italie described his signature (October 18, 1797) of the Treaty of Campo-Formio with Austria (November 4, 1797):
It is said that the French Republic also acquires Corfu, Zante, Cephalonia, Cerigo and several parts of the territory of Venetian Albania, adjacent to these islands. This new situation opens more than a hope for the future.

Revolutionaries target Ottomans

Soon, the Ottoman Near East was swarming with French agents and awash in revolutionary propaganda, as 1797-8 reports to Constantinople from Turkish regional officials repeatedly indicated. The Sultan's worst fears were confirmed by Le Moniteur (February 13, 1798): "Sudden revolution [in the Ottoman Empire] will be the fruit of Greek-language writings which arrive in profusion and which are distributed among the People to prepare them for a great change."

In 1797-8, Livorno, Rome, Pisa and Venice had Hebrew-language presses and Jewish typesetters ready to meet the needs of the new revolutionary order. Moreover, Napoleon was then personally directing the positioning of presses, equipped with characters for printing propaganda in French; Italian; Greek; Arabic; and also in Ottoman-Turkish, which notably was then the predominant language of government across the Near and Mideast.

From Mombello, Napoleon orders his fellow Corsican, the Italian-speaking, General Antoine Gentili to mount a secret expedition to quickly seize the Venetian island of Corfu. He also suggests that Gentili take along five or six Corsican officers, also able to speak the local language of government (Italian) and accustomed to dealing with Mediterranean islanders (May 26, 1797):
If the inhabitants of the country are well disposed to independence [from Venice], you are to flatter their taste. Do not fail to speak of [ancient] Greece, Athens and Sparta in the various proclamations which you will make.
Napoleon adds that he is sending "distinguished man of letters" Arnault to Corfu to: provide Napoleon with detailed reports about the situation of the Ionian Islands and the adjacent Balkan coast; help organize the civil administration; and assist Gentili in "the production of manifestos." The aim of these proclamations is to stir revolutionary feeling in the Ottoman Balkans. To the point, Napoleon wrote from Milan to Arnault (July 30, 1797):
I want you to start Greek-language printing on Corfu, from where you will establish your communications with the Maniotes, and with Albania via the enclaves that we possess there. In this way, we can from time to time circulate there, some writings that might enlighten the Greeks and prepare the renaissance of freedom (la liberté) in this most interesting part of Europe.
Thus, a press dispatched to Corfu printed a proclamation in Greek and Italian, announcing that "with the establishment of a press, those kings still sitting on their shaky thrones tremble, their iron yoke has been lifted from off the necks of the people by revolution." That same press was soon used to print, pertinently in Italian, the lectures (discorsi) delivered in the synagogue on Corfu. Italian was one of the languages commonly used by Italian and Adriatic Jews, and also easily read by many Jews of Salonika, the Aegean Islands, and other places of the Eastern Mediterranean.

For sure, Greeks are not the only target of such revolutionary propaganda. This is clear from careful reading of an October 25, 1797 letter from Constantinople, printed at Wesel (Prussia) in the newspaper, Courrier du Bas-Rhin, as cited in Frankfurt am Main, in the French-language, Journal de Francfort (December 15, 1797):
The warnings which the Sublime Porte continues to get from the Pashas, commanding in Albania and in its Western possessions, absolutely contradict the assurances which the ambassador of France has again given to it recently, on the subject of the spread of revolutionary principles. Their reports in this regard are very alarming for the government. They positively announce that it is sought to incite the peoples (soulever les peuples) by means of propagandists whose number and audacity increase more and more. [...] Some of the Sultan's ministers appear to be persuaded by the protests of the ambassador, but others claim to know that the French are trying to ignite Greece (soulever la Grèce), in order to get for themselves considerable support in the Archipelago, in the event of war. Whatever it might be, it is most certain and even proven by the fact that the French principles are already spread in the capital of the Sultans, and even much closer to the walls of the palace (Sérail) than the Ottoman ministers imagine. They are propagated among all the classes of the inhabitants (parmi toutes les classes des habitans), and their progress, although silent, cannot fail to become deadly for a government as despotic as that of the Turks. Most of the Greeks, among others (entre autres), are so imbued with these new principles, that when they compare their present state to freedom (la libertéand equality, they are practically ecstatic, and even ready to pass from ecstasy to frenzy.
To radicalize the Peoples of the Ottoman Empire, Napoleon and his agents were regularly using proclamations, pamphlets, leaflets, letters, poems, songs, music, pictures; and also symbols like red caps, tricolor cockades and liberty trees.

Propaganda to justify attacking Egypt

During early 1798, Napoleon was mostly in Paris. On February 23rd, he suggested that "an expedition to the Levant to threaten the trade of the Indies" might perhaps be more feasible than an invasion of England. On March 5th, the Directory agreed that he would undertake the campaign in Egypt. On April 12th, he was officially appointed General in Chief of "the Army of the East," l'armée d'Orient. This, the official name of his command, was initially a secret, in order to keep everyone guessing about his final destination. Thus, from late winter into spring, he was already in charge of every aspect of the great Egypt project, likely including preparation of pertinent propaganda. This communications effort was simultaneously aimed at advancing both his own political career and the foreign-policy goals of the Revolutionary French Republic.

Under the government of the Revolutionary Directory, the influential Paris weekly La Décade philosophique was, ideologically, France's premier periodical. It was religiously read by the Republic's leadership and most certainly by Napoleon, who for a time carefully cultivated close relations with its editors and writers. Many of them were identified as among the outstanding intellectuals dubbed "les idéologues."  They were also prominently represented in the new Institut National, where Napoleon was proudly a member from 1797.

Formerly a Roman-Catholic monk, Joachim Le Breton
was one of the editors of the highly influential journal
La Décade philosophique.

Likely party to the great secret that the French army would soon set sail for Alexandria was the former Catholic monk, Joachim Le Breton. He was a senior official of the Ministry of the Interior, a member of the Institut National, and one of the editors of La Décade philosophique. He was then playing a prominent part in government handling of the abundant art treasures that Napoleon had looted during his first campaigns in Italy (1796-7). Le Breton later supported Napoleon's coup d'État that ended the French Revolution (November 1799). With the fall of Napoleon's regime, Le Breton fled to Brazil, where he died in 1819.

Maybe at Napoleon's request, Le Breton hastened to write "Considerations on Egypt and Syria and the Power of the English in India." In the normal course, Napoleon might perhaps have first tried to entrust this task to his revered mentor, the famed Mideast expert and philosopher of history, Constantin Volney who was also a member of the Institut National. But, Volney had not yet returned from a three-year stay in the United States. (Volney will reappear later in this study.)

"Considerations on Egypt and Syria"

"Considerations on Egypt and Syria and the Power of the English in India" is a two-part article (signed "L.B." for Le Breton) published in April 1798, both in La Décade philosophique on the 9th and the 19th, and in the Paris daily newspaper La Clef du Cabinet des Souverains on the 16th and the 30th. This lengthy essay is based on geopolitical ideas that had long been discussed by 18th-century French diplomats.

In "Considerations," Le Breton offers nothing less than a strategic and moral justification (la mission civilisatrice) for the intended French invasion and colonization of Egypt and Greater Syria. Those two regions are specifically identified as new venues for large-scale European settlement, instead of the Americas. Napoleon too then thought that those two Mideast places ought to be extensively colonized by Europeans. In this colonial connection, Le Breton believes that Jews have special attributes that could significantly help France in its global struggle against England (April 19, 1798):
Everywhere, they [Jews] display sobriety, persistence, industry, activity. They have capital and commercial connections. These qualities and these means are not utilized as efficiently as they might be for their own benefit and for the broader society. It is therefore worthy of the attention of an enlightened government to consider whether it would be easy to do better in this regard, and thereby get for itself both advantage and glory.
Le Breton fantasizes that Jews are so rich that they are capable of underwriting the cost of regenerating not only Syria but Egypt too: "Their fortunes are easy to transport; men and gold will flow; they will supply enough, not only to make industry flourish, but to meet the expenses of the revolution in Syria and Egypt."

With greater accuracy, Le Breton highlights the Jewish People's longevity; and its enduring love for its aboriginal homeland, for the city of Jerusalem and for the site of the Temple. Indicting Christian bigotry, he portrays the Jews as a long-persecuted People of perhaps three million. Referring to "the destiny of this people," Le Breton judges Jews capable of forming "the body of a nation" in "Palestine." To that place, "they would rush from the four corners of the globe if given the signal." They will be won over to "our Revolution" and forever grateful to France. Here, Le Breton is clearly inspired by the then prominent idea of la grande nation, though that particular phrase does not appear in the text.

Le Breton is perhaps following the playbook of the French philosopher Voltaire. On July 6, 1771, Voltaire had written a letter (published 1784) to the Empress Catherine of Russia who was waging war (1768-1774) against the Ottomans. Therein, Voltaire suggests that she use her influence with her Egyptian partner, the Mamluk potentate Ali Bey, "to have the temple of Jerusalem rebuilt, and there to recall all the Jews." Normally, Voltaire is sharply critical of both Jews and Judaism. Thus, in his letter to Catherine the Great, his real intention is more likely to spite the Catholic Church, his usual target. Though Le Breton does not refer to Voltaire, he mentions Ali Bey's alleged offer to sell Jerusalem to the Jews of Livorno.

As an ex-monk, Le Breton had to have known that, in returning devout Jews to their aboriginal homeland, the Revolutionary French Republic would (apart from anything else) be joining the revered Voltaire in mocking Catholic doctrine. This stipulated that mass conversion to Christianity was the prerequisite to the restoration of the Jews. For revolutionaries, it was a bonus that sending hundreds of thousands of authentic, unconverted Jews back to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) would outrage Catholics, by contradicting key Christian prophecy about the end of days.

The Paris daily l'Ami des Lois (June 8, 1798).
This newspaper was reputed to express the views of the
Revolutionary-French Government and to be
sometimes financed by the Ministry of the General Police.

Lettre d'un Juif à ses frères

The anonymous "Letter from a Jew to His Brothers" attracted much attention in both France and beyond, partly because it occupied (June 8, 1798) the whole front page of the daily newspaper l'Ami des Lois, known to be especially close to the Directory, and sometimes financed by the Ministry of the General Police. For example, l'Ami des Lois was recognized as "halb-offizielle" (semi-official) by the Allgemeine Zeitung of Munich (May 13, 1799).

World Jewry is encouraged to organize itself to ask France to negotiate with Turkey for establishing a Jewish government in Jerusalem. That is the crux of this rather strange article, which is most probably government propaganda, principally designed to prepare the public for eventual receipt of the astonishing news of the French invasion of Egypt. Able to write in Italian, the unknown author is a clever, lateral thinker, who is skillfully able to kill four birds with one stone. Namely, the rhetoric here speaks to the dreams of France, revolutionaries, Christians and Jews.

We shall see that revolutionaries are the primary audience. However, Lettre d'un Juif is designed to simultaneously appeal to Jews and Christians, both of whom are expected to enjoy the reference to Jerusalem as "this sacred city" (cette cité sacrée). Also with some resonance among Jews is the mostly Christian concept, "l'empire de Jérusalem" (the empire of Jerusalem). This millenarian expression is exploited to ensure that the imminent news of the French landing in Alexandria will spark thoughts, among Jews about return to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬), and among Christians about the onset of the end of days.

Lettre d'un Juif could not have been completed before March 1798, because it refers to the birth of the Revolutionary Roman Republic (February 15th) and too perfectly dovetails with the new (March 5th) secret plan for the military occupation of Ottoman Egypt. To the point, Lettre d'un Juif is likely companion to this great official secret. This is hardly surprising, because at that time it was common to find, inserted in various Paris newspapers, articles that had really been written by government officials, ministers, or even by one of the Directors. In addition, the Directory then had a small Bureau politique of official reporters who rapidly produced timely propaganda pieces, according to need.

As for Napoleon himself, he had been writing and publishing propaganda since the age of twenty-one, as in his Letter to Buttafuoco (1791) and the Supper at Beaucaire (1793). Le Courrier de l’armée d’Italie and La France vue de l’armée d’Italie were two newspapers which Napoleon had created, in summer 1797, to spread his own ideas and advance his political ambitions.

The long history of Napoleon's propaganda reveals that he liked experimenting with various literary genres and voices. To the point, he relished role playing, including writing both for and from the parochial viewpoint of particular religions or nationalities. He occasionally penned anonymous letters or articles for insertion in various newspapers. Based on the generous personal attention that Napoleon had given to such anonymous newspaper propaganda in Italy, we can guess that a key, strategic, government item like Lettre d'un Juif is maybe from his pen or perhaps prepared under his control, at some time before he sailed from Toulon on May 19th.

Readers of l'Ami des Lois are specifically told: "Be assured that the philosophy which guides the leaders of this sublime nation [the Revolutionary French Republic] would cause them to welcome our request." If not Napoleon, who is Anonymous that he can so authoritatively promise that France's rulers would approve the plan for Jewish return to the ancestral homeland?

Lettre d'un Juif highlights both "Israelites" and "Jews." Shifting terminology as to the name of this People does not distance us from Napoleon. To be noted is a March 1789 workbook where, in the space of a single page, young Napoleon uses all three of the terms: Hebrews, Israelites and Jews.

Lettre d'un Juif specifically says that it is "translated from the Italian" (traduite de l'italien). But, this explicit translation claim has been dismissed as a device for concealing the supposed fact that the original version is the French text, just as published. A possible motive for falsely alleging a translation from a foreign language might perhaps be to suggest that the writer is truly at arm's length from the French government. But if so, why arbitrarily choose Italian, when Hebrew would so obviously be a cover story more plausible and also more distant from the Directory and Napoleon? By contrast to such linguistic speculation, there is fair certainty that Napoleon was by 1798 practically bilingual, and therefore capable of writing Lettre d'un Juif, whether in French or Italian.

So, why would Napoleon opt to write the original version of Lettre d'un Juif in Italian? Firstly, he was unable to write in Hebrew. Secondly, he knew from personal experience that many Mediterranean Jews were able to read Italian which, in the 18th century, was still the commercial, coastal language of international business, all the way from Gibraltar to ConstantinopleThirdly, it is clear that Lettre d'un Juif was never intended to be exclusively for Jews, which also explains its prominent publication in French translation.

Starting no later than 1797, Napoleon was aiming revolutionary propaganda at all the subject Peoples of the Ottoman Empire. In this clear communications context, revolutionary agents in mid-1798 were perhaps also circulating printed leaflets of the Italian original of Lettre d'un Juif, including to Jews of Italy, the Adriatic and the Ottoman Empire. Was this really so? With such ephemera, it is (by definition) seldom possible to know. In any event, Lettre d'un Juif 's Italian pedigree remains key, including because Napoleon's conquest of Italy has to play a big part in any attempt to solve the related riddle of his invitations to the Jews to return to their ancestral homeland.

When Lettre d'un Juif was published in Paris on June 8th, it was widely known that Napoleon's invasion fleet was already at sea. But, its final destination was still a puzzle, with European speculation intense. Thus, the general public did not then know that Napoleon's ships were poised to take Malta, and thereafter destined for Alexandria. This news blackout was confirmed by the Neueste Weltkunde of Tübingen (July 24, 1798):
Two months have passed since Buonaparte set sail: and the world's expectation, the lack of knowledge about his real plan, is now just as great as at the moment of his departure. All that we can say to date, and even this only partially, is where he is not going -- not to Portugal, not to the British Isles: but the real target of his undertaking, which should astonish Europe, is still the best kept mystery.

Understanding Lettre d'un Juif requires sharp focus on the precise extent of the territory at issue in the text. Remarkably, this is not just a part of the "Holy Land" (la Terre sainte), but notably also "lower Egypt" (la basse Égypte). The latter country was then ruled by Mamluk Beys who paid lip service to Ottoman suzerainty. According to Lettre d'un Juif:
The territory which we [Jews] propose to occupy will include, subject to arrangements that will be agreeable to France, lower Egypt (la basse Égypte), with the territory bounded by a line that will depart from Ptolémaïde or Saint-Jean d'Acre to the Lake of Asphalt, or the Dead Sea, and from the southern point of this lake as far as the Red Sea.
Lettre d'un Juif 's striking inclusion of two key elements, namely "la basse Égypte" and proposed Franco-Ottoman negotiations reveals an underlying truth. Anonymous is probably a powerful, regime insider who writes Lettre d'un Juif inspired by the top secret knowledge that the Nile Delta is the French fleet's final destination, and that the invasion is expected to trigger early Constantinople talks for Ottoman approval of France's rule in Egypt.

At that time, Talleyrand was already secretly telling the Directory that, in return, France could promise to help the Turks reconquer the Crimea from Russia. Before leaving France (May 19, 1798), Napoleon sincerely believed that Talleyrand would soon go to Constantinople to convince the Turks that the French role in Egypt served the true interests of the Ottoman Empire.

Maybe written by Napoleon himself, Lettre d'un Juif is fully auxiliary to a complex French plan of attack, and subsequent diplomacy. Its ostensible purpose is to revolutionize Jews generally, and to get them to financially support France's Mideast project. But, the urgent subtext is finding some added revolutionary justification for what would otherwise be nothing more than a cynical scenario for French gain in Egypt. Such additional revolutionary pretext would help make France's Mideast expansion morally praiseworthy.

Further moral justification was all the more necessary, because there had been some sharp criticism of the ruthless Realpolitik in the October 1797 Treaty of Campo-Formio. There, Napoleon had bought peace with France's hereditary enemy, the Habsburgs, via extinction of the age-old Republic of Venice and the partitioning with Austria of the various Venetian territories.

However, this time Realpolitik would not be buying peace, but rather mounting an unprovoked French attack on distant Egypt. Thus, additional revolutionary pretext was urgently needed to paint this imminent aggression as something other than a reprehensible land grab. Certainly to be avoided at all costs was comparison with the infamous partitions of Poland, the last of which had occurred as recently as 1795.

The shocking extinction of Poland still featured as blameworthy in Talleyrand's arguments for the Directory (February 13, 1798). This must have occurred to Napoleon too, because thousands of veterans of the failed Polish revolution had joined his Army of Italy. In Milan, there had been "a gathering of Poles around Buonaparte," wrote the Paris daily newspaper, Le Conservateur (September 28, 1797). Therein articulated was the sacred, revolutionary goal, "Poland rendered free and a republic." In Lettre d'un Juif, Anonymous wants readers to view his plan for return of the Jews, as a laudable revolutionary aim, just like the idea of restoring Polish independence. Poland does not feature in the text but is key revolutionary context.

Chock full of judaica is the April 19th article in La Décade philosophique, by ex-monk Le Breton. By contrast, Lettre d'un Juif boldly doubles world Jewish population to an improbable six million, and suspiciously lacks much convincing information about Jews, Judaism and Jewish history. For example, the period from mid 1795 until early 1798 is mostly an emancipating moment for many of the Jews of Western Europe. But, adhering to the contemporary revolutionary ideology, Lettre d'un Juif purposely portrays Jews as little more than a cardboard caricature of unrelenting victimhood.

Moreover, what 1799 Jew would write an appeal to world Jewry in Italian instead of Hebrew; pen a document bisecting the sacred, historic territory of Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬), with a straight line running from Acre to the Dead Sea; and describe Jews as possessing "immense riches," but outwardly pretending to be poor and miserable in order to guard their wealth? Furthermore, the title and the repeated appeal directly to "brothers" both strongly smack of the vocabulary of the New Testament, rather than that of the Jewish Bible. Thus, we have to seriously doubt that Lettre d'un Juif is really written by a Jew.

Like Napoleon, Anonymous has a passion for antiquity that prompts him to thrice salute the "courage" of the ancient Jews (66-73 CE) who were finally forced to yield the "Holy Land" to the Romans. This reiterated compliment matches Napoleon's penchant for publicly praising classical heroes. "This courage is only dormant, the hour of awakening has arrived." Here, Anonymous shares Napoleon's firm belief that the Peoples of the world are now being roused from sleep by the spirit of liberty, which revolutionaries regard as the great force of the age.

Also invoked is the "horrific memory" of the grim siege of Jerusalem (70 CE). For this remark, did Anonymous rely on History of the Jewish War, by the first-century commander and historian, Yosef ben Matityahu (Flavius Josephus)? If so, take note that Napoleon was familiar with this famous Jewish work by June 6, 1797.

Napoleon's writing frequently invokes classical antiquity as a companion to expressions of patriotic and revolutionary enthusiasm. In the same way, Lettre d'un Juif segues to fervent commitment to the notion of France as la grande nation, though that specific phrase is lacking. "Generous", "sublime" and "loyal" are adjectives which Anonymous selects to flatter France. He sees global relations, with France as the "invincible nation which now fills the world with its glory."

Anonymous suggests that, to its great financial and commercial advantage, France should mediate between Turks and Jews and, via smart diplomacy, win the consent of the Ottoman Sultan Selim III for the return of the "Israelites." Based in both Egypt and the Holy Land, "Jews" are expected to play a great role in international trade, and to importantly help France blunt England's worldwide economic advantage. We shall soon see some proof (in connection with Ancona, Alexandria and France) that Napoleon too thought Jews to be an important stimulus to international trade.

In this three-party transaction, Anonymous imagines world Jewry to be represented by a proposed council of fifteen Jews who would meet in Paris. They would be deputies selected by the various Jewish communities "in Europe, in Asia, in Africa." Such rythmic invocation of the continents recalls Napoleon whose writing repeatedly has such exciting references to expansive geography. Identically with fifteen members is the Ancona municipal council that Napoleon had invented in February 1797. Moreover, Anonymous's plan for a Paris-based Jewish council, empowered to make binding decisions, is so strikingly similar to Napoleon's blueprint for the Grand Sanhedrin, which he initially (August 23, 1806) wanted open to Jews of all countries. On February 9, 1807, the Sanhedrin began with a service in Hebrew, French and Italian.

Just like Le Breton and Napoleon too, Anonymous prejudicially presumes that Jews possess "immense riches" and the ability to generate still more wealth to share with France and its traders:
Situated in the center of the world, our [Jewish] country will become the entrepot for all that is rich and precious. If France furnishes us with the help that will be necessary for us to return to and remain in our homeland, the [Jewish] council will offer the French government, firstly, financial compensation, etc. And, secondly, to share only with French merchants the trade of the Indies.

Mediating in Constantinople for control of Egypt and creation of a Jewish government in Jerusalem made some sense when Lettre d'un Juif was published. Then, both Napoleon and Talleyrand were still calculating that the imminent seizure of Mamluk Egypt could be achieved, without the Ottomans declaring war against France. Who before August 1, 1798 could foresee that on that day British Admiral Horatio Nelson would almost completely annihilate the French Fleet in Aboukir Bay?

Nelson's naval victory was a staggering blow not only to France's prestige but also to its capability in the Mediterranean. The Sultan's strategic calculus was dramatically altered. After Aboukir Bay, Turkey dared to actively wage war against France, with the aid of Russia and Britain. But, in the first half of 1798, Napoleon and Talleyrand were arguably rational in judging that Selim III would avoid fighting. They knew that the Ottoman ruler feared France's ability to project power all the way to Constantinople, and that he was too busy trying to suppress the great Balkan rebellion of the Pasha of Vidin, Osman Pasvanoğlu.

Lettre d'un Juif has an underlying agenda more focused on Egypt than the Holy Land. Napoleon and Anonymous both think geopolitically. Just like Napoleon, Anonymous understands the Holy Land as, strategically and commercially, part of the larger land bridge between the Red and Mediterranean Seas, and between the Asian and African continents. This means that the Holy Land is also the key eastern gateway to Egypt. Though France had long coveted Egypt, Lettre d'un Juif slyly reverses everything by cleverly subordinating Egypt to the Holy Land.

Readers are thoroughly distracted with the striking, apocalyptic term l'empire de Jérusalem. This millenarian expression is eminently convenient, because no such entity ever existed. Thus, there are no historic boundaries. This particular aspect of borderlessness is key for Anonymous, who spectacularly includes Egypt within l'empire de Jérusalem. He thereby associates his plan for restoration of the Jews with the main underlying idea -- namely, France will negotiate with the Ottomans about the future of Egypt. This crucial point about subsequent negotiation in Constantinople dovetails with the great State secret of the spring of 1798. Just like Napoleon, Anonymous seems to already know that France will negotiate, after first seizing Egypt by force of arms, with firm intent to colonize it, and hold it permanently as a revolutionary republic, satellite to la grande nation.

Anonymous shrewdly senses that Egypt also has heavy prophetic weight. To the point are the portentous events generally seen to herald the Redemption of the Jews and/or the Second Coming of Christ. The first prophetic sign is France's toppling of the Papal power. This Rome story is probably the single biggest news item of the first half of 1798. Octogenarian Pope Pius VI is carried away from the Vatican. Anonymous thus cleverly presumes that many across Europe are ready to receive news of the French invasion of Egypt as the second prophetic sign, the end of Muslim rule in the Mideast. For rabbis, these two omens are harbingers of Redemption; and for Protestant theologians, of the Second Coming. For example, see what "X" writes to the editor of the Gentlemen's Magazine of London about Egypt (September 1799):
It seems of little consequence whether we look for the rivers of Cush to the East or West of Judea, if the nation, by whose instrumentality the Jews are to be restored to the land of their forefathers, ... shall, at the time of the fulfilling of this prophecy, have the dominion over Egypt, and all those countries where Mahometanism is at present established.

Calling for l'empire de Jérusalem, Anonymous is probably savvy about Christian eschatology. He is likely aware that l'empire de Jérusalem features mostly in Christian millenarian discussion about the end of days. Thus, he purposely uses l'empire de Jérusalem to suggest to Christians everywhere that France would be doing God's work, by realizing famous prophecies about the restoration of the Jews. In Christian doctrine, the conversion and return of the Jews is prelude to the Second Coming of Christ, the parousia (παρουσία).

In a discreet bow to Christianity, Anonymous skillfully uses four dots to avoid having to reveal that an appreciable number of observant Jews are already living in Jerusalem and the other Jewish communities in the Holy Land: "14. Tribu Asiatique. Ceux qui habitent la Turquie d'Asie ...." (14. Asian Tribe. Those who inhabit Turkey in Asia ....). Significantly, no such dots for omission, mark the sometimes detailed descriptions of the fourteen other constituencies for electing the proposed Jewish deputies.

Anonymous is confident that revolutionaries do not care whether or not some practicing Jews are already living in Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬). He also knows that Jews themselves will automatically fill in the dots, with their own knowledge of the Holy Land Jews who for centuries were supported by the halukka (Heb: חלוקה) regularly paid by diaspora Jews, almost everywhere.

The author of Lettre d'un Juif is sure that Jews will devour his text with minds firmly focused on their millennial dream of return to "la patrie" (the homeland), Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬). Thus, he declaims: "We are going to return to our homeland. We are going to live under our own laws. We are going to see the sacred sites that our ancestors made famous by their courage and their virtues."

As for revolutionaries, they are expected to see l'empire de Jérusalem, as birth of a new republican jurisdiction -- the inauguration of some sort of local Jewish rule, dominion or government. Anonymous relies on revolutionaries to faithfully interpret l'empire de Jérusalem as a sister Jewish Republic, la République judaïque. This startling term "Jewish Republic" does not appear in Lettre d'un Juif, but features in Le Moniteur (August 3, 1798). Such a République judaïque would invariably follow the lead of la grande nation, because entirely dependent on France.

And, the Egyptian and Jewish Republics would not be the only French satellites in the Mideast. Below we shall see that, when Lettre d'un Juif was published, efforts were already underway to exploit the strong ethno-religious feelings of Maronites and Druze in the Lebanon, in order to further enhance France's future security in Egypt. In this connection, the famous mathematician and revolutionary statesman, Gaspard Monge sent Napoleon a letter covering a petition from Rome-based Maronite monks (March 28, 1798):
You will see, Citizen General, just how useful it may be for the interests of the French Republic to keep friends in Mount Lebanon, and whether the Directory might now do for them more than we thought permitted to us in the past.
At that time, Napoleon was a well-known opponent of the Catholic Church. However, Mideast Catholics like the Maronites were practically an exception, because still regionally useful as traditional protégés of France.

By contrast, the rigorous anti-Catholicism required by revolutionaries is expressed in Lettre d'un Juif 's relatively tactful indictment of "barbarous and intolerant religions" for preaching hatred towards Jews. The revolutionary response to such persistent persecution is, for Anonymous, a national program of liberty that would see the Jewish People return to its ancestral homeland:
The generous constancy with which we have preserved the faith of our ancestors, far from attracting to us the admiration which was our due, only increased the unjust hatred which all the nations hold against us. [...] It is finally time to shake off such an unbearable yoke, it is time to resume our rank among the nations. [...] The hour of awakening has come. Oh my brothers! Let us reestablish the empire of Jerusalem (l'empire de Jérusalem).

"Lettre d'un Juif" seen from abroad

In 1798, Lettre d'un Juif is generally taken seriously and understood as linked to Napoleon and the Directory. For example, pointing to nothing more than Lettre d'un Juif, the Paris newspaper Le Propagateur concludes (June 9): "The Jews regard Bonaparte as their Messiah."

By contrast, a faulty summary in the Paris newspaper La Feuille Universelle (June 9) creatively attributes authorship of Lettre d'un Juif to an unknown Italian Jew called "Mathéo." Such misinformation causes the Journal de Francfort (June 16) to write that "a Jew named Mathéo has just published in Italian a letter addressed to his brothers." The same flawed Paris résumé about Mathéo prompts the London Evening Mail (June 15-18) to initially miss the key aspects of the Directory, Napoleon, and Egypt.

However, the Hamburgische Neue Zeitung (June 20, 1798), via juxtaposition, implies that Jews financed Napoleon's Toulon expedition.  Lettre d'un Juif is understood as detailing "a new, great project to be undertaken by the Jews." Those particular words, plus a detailed account of Lettre d'un Juif, suggestively follow directly after a few lines describing a boast by Napoleon in Paris that enough money for the Toulon expedition is available five times over.

The Paris press was regularly scrutinized in London, where the Lloyd's Evening-Post offers some canny analysis that directs a prescient eye to Egypt (June 25-27, 1798):
A report has lately circulated, with some degree of credit, that the intention of the French, in the late expedition from Toulon, is to attempt the restoration of the Jews. The idea has probably originated in a curious article contained in one of the last Paris Journals, purporting to be a plan for the re-establishment of the Empire of Jerusalem, under the aid and protection of the French. [...] The Jews are to receive their country from the Great Nation, and to become its tributaries. The conquest of Egypt was always a favourite idea, even under the old Government of France; it was at one time actually debated in Council, and was only negatived by the Count de Vergennes.
There is no doubt about Lettre d'un Juif 's official character in the Morning Chronicle and the Evening Mail, both of which (July 16, 1798) reprint verbatim the following paragraph from the St. James's Chronicle of London (July 12-14, 1798):
The French project of a Jewish Republic, however absurd and impracticable it may appear at the first blush, requires the utmost vigilance of the European Governments. The wealth and numbers of the Jews in Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and England, if put into political motion, would be felt throughout Europe. It fortunately happens that the Jews are too sagacious a people to place their property under French protection.
Lettre d'un Juif is translated as "Restoration of the Jews: Letter from a Jew to his Brethren" in the St. James's Chronicle (July 14-17, 1798). This integral text convinces the astute Anglican preacher Henry Kett that "re-establishing the Jews in their own land" is well and truly a French government project. Therefore, he writes, History, the Interpreter of Prophecy. This three-volume bestseller, from Oxford University Press, wrestles with the possibility that the Revolutionary French Republic might unwittingly be God's instrument for "the restoration of the ancient chosen people of God to the land which He gave to their fathers" (1799):
Granting therefore that the Power of France should execute this project, instead of invalidating, it will confirm the truth of Prophecy, and afford another signal example of the over-ruling providence of God. The wicked and blaspheming Assyrian was the rod of His anger and executed [721 BCE] His judgments upon His people. The tremendous Anti-Christian Northern Power [France] which has been raised up to be the scourge of nations, shall "fulfill His will, though in his heart he means not so." The restoration of the Jews may be a part of their commission; and there are some reasons which make this not a very improbable supposition...
Ignoring Egypt but indicting the Directory, the following paragraph is printed verbatim in both the Evening Mail (July 18-20, 1798) and the St. James's Chronicle (July 19-21, 1798):
The project of the French to assemble the Jews in Palestine, with a view of restoring their ancient Republic, and of re-building Jerusalem, is not quite so absurd as it may appear at first sight. It will supply the Directory with many a specious pretense for extorting money, not only from those of that Nation, who believe in the re-establishment of the ancient Republic of the Jews, but also from those who, more attached to their private interest, or less credulous than the former, do not wish to quit their establishments in the land of the infidels. For who knows whether France does not intend to force all the Jews resident in her vast dominions, to proceed to Palestine, or to sell them the permission of remaining where they are. This measure would be perfectly analogous to the whole Directorial system of plunder. 
Such sharp critique prompts the Neueste Weltkunde (August 11, 1798) to astonishment that "the English ministerial press" takes Lettre d'un Juif so seriously (für vollen Ernst). By contrast, the Neueste Weltkunde judges that Lettre d'un Juif is nothing more than banter (Persiflage). But, in London, the Morning Post and Gazetteer dissents (September 26, 1798): "Who will now treat the idea of restoring the Jews with ridicule? Buonaparte has already conquered Egypt and Palestine, and the slightest effort would reduce Palestine under his power."

Hopes high till French fleet sunk in Aboukir Bay

Shortly after publication of Lettre d'un Juif, Napoleon astonished the Mediterranean world by taking the mighty island fortress of Malta from the Roman-Catholic Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem (June 10, 1798). The impact was all the greater because, for centuries, the Knights had been infamous slavers capturing Muslims, Orthodox Greeks, and Jews. These unfortunates were sold, ransomed or kept to row the Maltese galleys.

Erfolgte Kapitulation zwischen dem General Bonaparte und dem Groß Meister
von Maltha, Vor der Hauptstadt Waletta zu Maltha, am 10. Juni 1798

[Successful surrender between General Bonaparte and the Grand Master
of Malta, in front of the capital Valletta on Malta, on June 10, 1798.]

"May its name be wiped out!" was the accustomed rabbinic malediction for the Malta of the Knights of Saint John. From the 17th century, there was a Jewish prophecy that the final defeat of these Knights would be the first sign of Redemption. Such messianic thoughts were naturally stimulated by Napoleon's quick victory; his expulsion of the Knights from Malta; his dramatic freeing of the slaves, Jews too; and his establishment of Jewish civic rights. However, Maltese Catholics were dead certain that Jewish emancipation was a revolutionary attack on Christianity. To the point, they took deep umbrage at Napoleon's order (June 17, 1798): "Protection will be accorded to Jews wishing to establish a synagogue" (Il sera accordé protection aux Juifs qui voudraient établir une synagogue).

From Malta, Napoleon wrote in French to the commissary of the Revolutionary Republic in the newly annexed, and so provocatively named, French Département de la Mer-Égée (Department of the Aegean Sea). This French official was specifically ordered to inform the population of his département about the great victory of the Republic (June 14, 1798): "Also don't forget any means to publicize it to the Greeks of the Morea and the other [Ottoman provinces]."

An identical June 14th order from Napoleon on Malta took exactly four days to reach the central administration on Corfu. There, it provoked immediate issuance of a proclamation, as described in the French-language, Journal Politique de l'Europe of Mannheim (August 11, 1798):
The genius of victory, the hero of liberty has led the republican army to Malta, where he has hoisted the tricolor flag. The Order of the Knights of Malta is destroyed. This event is announced in General Bonaparte's letter which arrived today [June 20] at the central administration [of the Ionian Islands]. The Republic will cover the Mediterranean with victories. Also among us, we will see the hero who has established the happiness of these départements. French Greeks, Greeks of the Morea, descendants of the heroes of antiquity! Answer freedom's call which rings out along your shores! Bonaparte is in the Mediterranean: What is it that you cannot hope and obtain? Long live the Republic!
A month later, the French Embassy in Constantinople noted a directly-related conversation with the Phanariote Dragoman of the Porte, who held the second most important post in Ottoman foreign affairs (July 25, 1798):
Prince [Constantine] Ypsilanti showed to Citizen [Michel Ange Louis] Dantan [the French Dragoman] an Italian letter which this general [Napoleon] wrote from Malta to the Greeks of the Département of the Aegean Sea, and in which he invites them to announce the freedom (la liberté) of the Maltese, to the Greeks of the Peloponnese as a prelude to their own. "As dragoman of the divan," he added, "I cannot approve of the ambitious views of Citizen Bonaparte regarding Ottoman territory; but as a Greek, I curse a boastfulness that will cost the lives of more than 10,000 Greeks, ready to be massacred by the Turks."

Among Mediterranean Jews and Greeks, Napoleon's string of stunning victories increasingly triggered a soaring expectation that only climbed still further with his conquest of Ottoman Egypt from the local Mamluks (July 1798). National dreams of the early arrival of "liberty and equality" were fast rising until news spread of the virtual annihilation of Napoleon's fleet at Aboukir Bay (August 1, 1798). For example, Le Moniteur carried a July 21st report from London (August 3, 1798):
The Jews see the French Republic as the veritable messiah that was promised to them. In this regard, they cite Isaiah who revealed that, upon appearance of such and such signs, there would be rebirth of the Jewish Republic (République judaïque) and of the new architecture of the city of truth [Jerusalem], as the solemn meeting place of all the oppressed beings of the universe.
The French naval disaster in Egypt ended an exceptional period of growing anticipation when Napoleon was seen by many Jews as Messiah and by many Greeks as a second Alexander, destined to soon conquer Constantinople and liberate Turkey's subject Peoples. During that interval of heightened excitement, keen revolutionary hopes were purposely fed by Le Moniteur which persistently published reports of real or imagined rebellions, and several times predicted the imminent fall of the Ottoman Empire.

George Arnald (1827), end of the great French flagship L'Orient
at the Battle of Aboukir Bay, August 1, 1798.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Close ties between Italian and Ottoman Jewry

The nature of the link between Jews of Italy and those of the Ottoman Empire was specifically described by Le Breton in La Décade philosophique (April 19, 1798):
I take it from a citizen who was employed with distinction in the ports and cities of the Levant, and who merits full trust, that the Jews of Livorno, having recognized in the detachment of the Army of Italy which occupied that city, a child of the synagogue honored with the rank of French officer, were so taken with it to the point of enthusiasm that they expressed their joy to the Jews of the [Greek] Archipelago and that this little circumstance caused the latter to love our revolution.

In 1797-8, Napoleon did not trumpet his dramatic liberation of the Jews of Italy. Thus, in explaining the important links between Italian and Ottoman Jewry, Le Breton missed the far more powerful example provided by Napoleon's conquest (February 9, 1797) of the city of Ancona on the Adriatic coast of Italy. This is described in detail in the contemporary Sepher Ma'ase Nissim (ספר מעשה נסים) of Rabbi Jacob Cohen. The English title is Hebrew Chronicle About the Jews of Ancona During the Years 1793-1797, published in the Hebrew language in 1982 by Daniel Carpi.

Rabbi Cohen writes that, when Napoleon arrived, Jewish soldiers of the French Revolutionary Army were immediately sent to protect the local Jews, and to abolish the curfew and all the other demeaning restrictions of the ghetto, which was home to around 1,600 Jews. Established were Jewish freedom of movement at all hours and the valuable right to site a business outside the ghetto. Furthermore, these proud Jewish soldiers of France's Army of Italy got local Jews to wear the tricolor revolutionary cocarde, instead of the yellow "badge of disgrace" that had recently been rigorously reimposed by the reactionary Roman-Catholic Church. Encouraged by Brigadier-General Louis Emmanuel Rey, the Jews of Ancona planted a liberty tree.

To govern Ancona and the surrounding villages, Napoleon replaced oppressive papal rule with a new 15-member municipal government (municipalità), to which he spectacularly appointed three local Jews from distinguished families (February 10, 1797). Like the other members of the municipalità, Sanson Costantini, and David and Ezzacchia Morpurgo had to swear allegiance to the Revolutionary French Republic. This they did at noon on February 11, 1797, in the presence of General Jean-Jacques Bernardin Colaud-de-la-Salcette.

Rabbi Cohen also records that, in the local synagogue, grateful Jews celebrated with the biblical "Song of the Sea," which thanks God for saving the Israelites from the Egyptians. "For the glory of the French army" a light was placed in the window of every Jewish home in Ancona. In early July 1797, General Claude Dallemagne, the town commandant, ordered the municipalità to admit young Jewish men to serve in the civil guard (guardia civica). For the first time, the children of Ancona Jews studied alongside those of the Christians.

In 1797, Napoleon repeatedly testified that Ancona was key in terms of strategy, logistics, and trade. For example, he wrote from Ancona to the Directory (February 10, 1797):
The city of Ancona is the only port along the Adriatic coast after Venice. From all viewpoints, it is very essential for our communications with Constantinople. Within 24 hours one can go from here to Macedonia. Even though they obeyed it, no government was so despised by the Peoples (les Peuples) as this [papal] one here. After the first emotion of fright that was caused by entry of an enemy army, there followed the joy of being delivered from the most ridiculous of governments.
Prominent among the various "Peoples" that Napoleon found in Ancona were the Jews. They were especially well-connected. Culturally and commercially, they were genuinely significant in 18th-century Italian and Mediterranean Jewry.

On the eve of the Treaty of Tolentino (February 19, 1797) between France and the Holy See, Napoleon assured Ancona Jews that they would not be returned to papal rule. One variant of Rabbi Cohen's manuscript records that, in gratitude for all he had done, Ancona Jews later sent to Milan Jewish representatives to formally thank Napoleon. Welcoming them with a banquet, Napoleon answered in Italian: "You are free men, you are free men... I shall maintain your freedom. Be strong, don't fear and don't worry."

Revolutionary Jews of Corfu

Actively trading with Ancona to the west and with the Ottoman Empire to the east, Corfu's Jews numbered 1,500 to 2,000 out of the total urban population of circa 12,000. From June 28, 1797, these Jews were immediate beneficiaries of the new revolutionary regime. For example, the island's two principal rabbis were (July 10, 1797) appointed to the municipality, which was the newly created, French provisional government of the island of Corfu.

Aware that Napoleon was a great champion of Jewish emancipation, Arnault reported (July 11, 1797) to him that the right of the two rabbis to sit as council members was aggressively challenged by 18 Orthodox Greek councillors who hit the two Jews and shouted "Vivent les Français. Point d'Hébreux!" (Long live the French! No Jews!) Troops were called to control this display of violent prejudice, which also came from a mob of five hundred ruffians, outside on the square. "The Jews are dogs," shouted the rioters, who demanded that Jews be excluded from the municipal body and prevented from sporting the revolutionary tricolor cockade on their hats. But Arnault stood firm, with the words: "The freedom (la liberté) brought by the French is the common property of all; a Jew is no longer to be a dog for a Greek, just as much as a Greek is no longer to be one for a Latin." Years later, Arnault reflected that the Greeks then mostly understood "freedom (la liberté) as the right to oppress anybody who was not of their communion."

The revolutionary principle, "all the religions are equal," had to be strictly enforced by Gentili, as commissary-general of the Ionian Islands. For example, officer of the Levant Division, J.P. Bellaire recalled (1805) that Gentili in 1797-8 made sure that children from some of the poorer Jewish families on Corfu were able to attend Mr. Vivotte's public, primary school together with the Catholic and Orthodox students. There they studied "writing, arithmetic and the French language."

In 1797-8, Gentili also guarded the right to equality of the Jews on the islands of the neighboring Department of the Aegean Sea. The former commissary on Zante, Cerigo, Cerigotto and the Strophades, Charles Rulhière wrote that, during the long period of Venetian rule, the "fanatic" Orthodox Greeks had been violently hostile to the Jewish islanders. However, Rulhière proudly affirmed (1799): "During our stay, the peace was well kept, due to the measures taken by the civil and military authorities."

Around September 1798, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople issued a proclamation that favored the Russians and the Turks, and condemned the French as "atheists." So, when a Russo-Turkish fleet neared Corfu, seven to eight thousand angry Orthodox Greek peasants came to town for a savage pogrom (October 24, 1798). Alongside the French garrison, the Corfiote Jews valiantly fought as soldiers trying to defend the fortress against combined attacks by reactionary Russians and Ottomans (1798-9). The Augsburgische Ordinari Postzeitung printed an Ancona report describing the March 2, 1799 victory of the counter-revolution on Corfu (May 3, 1799): "The most zealous Democrats, who are mostly Jews, were exiled."

The 1797 events recorded by Rabbi Cohen in Ancona and by Arnault on Corfu ranked as sensational news for Jews everywhere. Just as suggested by Le Breton, tidings of such extraordinary happenings would have spread, within days, to the Jewish communities of the adjacent Balkan coast, and thereafter to Jews throughout the Ottoman Near and Mideast.

Napoleon targeted all the Ottoman Peoples

Despite more than two hundred years of friendship between France and the Ottomans, Napoleon had scant respect for the Sultan's sovereignty. Napoleon imagined the Ottoman Empire to be already collapsing, so he wanted to give it a bit of a push himself. Naturally, he presumed that France would always keep supremacy as la grande nation. But beyond that, he regarded the Ottoman corpse as big enough to satisfy the national dreams of a long list of fraternal Peoples -- including Jews, Greeks, Maronites, Armenians, Druze; and also Muslim Albanians, Turks, and Arabs. This kind of thinking partly explains his planning to occupy Ottoman Egypt. It also resulted in his policy of encouraging the separatist ambitions of the Sultan's actual or potential Muslim rivals like Osman Pasvanoğlu in Vidin and Tepedelenli Ali Pasha in Yanina.

But closer to Napoleon's revolutionary ethos were his concerted efforts to spread the "spirit of liberty" among the Sultan's non-Muslim, tribute-paying subjects, the raya (Ottoman: رعايا). Starting no later than 1797, he repeatedly aimed propaganda at the subject Peoples of the entire Ottoman Empire. French, Italian, Greek, Ottoman-Turkish, and Arabic were certainly all used. However, there was perhaps some of his product available in Hebrew; and maybe in Syriac, because he had at least one translator expert in that language. Conceivably, there might also have been some Napoleon ephemera in Armenian or Armeno-Turkish. To be sure, exactly such a wide-ranging campaign of sedition had been specifically commanded by the Directory, via a letter to Napoleon from Talleyrand (August 23, 1797):
Nothing is more important than that we put ourselves on a good footing with Albania, Greece, Macedonia and other provinces of the Turkish empire in Europe and even with all those that are bathed by the waters of the Mediterranean, notably Egypt which one day could become of great utility to us. The Directory, in approving the ties which you have established with Ibrahim Pasha and the Albanian nation, desires that you make the French people known to the remainder of the Turkish provinces, in a way that sooner or later could turn out to their benefit and to ours, and to the disadvantage of our common enemies.

Meeting Napoleon at Passariano, at the eastern extremity of Italy, General Louis Desaix described in his diary what he then learned about Napoleon's plan to bring down the Ottoman Empire (September 1797):
The general has a great and skillful policy: it is to give to all of these folks there a grand idea of the French nation. He has received the Directory's command to spread that idea throughout all of Africa, Greece, via printing presses, proclamations. He wins the hearts of all these nations; he reminds them of their ancient glory, their ancient name; he instructs them about the astonishing and prodigious feats of the French. And, they are all surprised to find out what they learn; they are very thirsty for news; they come in great numbers to Ancona to equip themselves with merchandise and one of their greatest pleasures is to take these proclamations to read and to carry them back to their country.

Compelling Sept. 1797 testimony about Napoleon's proclamations to
the various Peoples of the Ottoman Empire is provided in the
Journal de voyage du Général Desaix, Suisse et Italie, 1797
(Paris, 1907), p. 256.

Jewish traders traveled to Ancona

Desaix refers to proclamations picked up by foreign merchants trading to Ancona. Like Napoleon, those familiar with 18th-century Adriatic trade would immediately know that Jews played an important role in the commerce between Ancona and the Ottoman east. Napoleon's native understanding of the Mediterranean included awareness that Jews were often part of transnational, commercial networks, based on kinship; shared religion, languages, culture; and strong economic synergy. On this Jewish point, the Directory received a pertinent report from Napoleon in Macerata (February 15, 1797):
Ancona is a very good port. From there, you can reach Macedonia within twenty-four hours and Constantinople within ten days. My intention is to collect there as many Jews as possible. (Mon projet est d'y ramasser tous les juifs possibles.) I will have the fortress there put into the best state of defense. In the general peace, we must keep the port of Ancona, and make sure that it always belongs to France. This will enable us to have a great influence on the Ottoman Porte and make us masters of the Adriatic Sea.

Further examples? Two months after Napoleon withdrew his army from the Holy Land, his Memoire on Internal Administration (August 1799) similarly recommended using all means to attract a large Jewish population to Alexandria, which he thought ought to be the Egyptian capital instead of Cairo. Later, on Saint Helena, Napoleon in Italian told O'Meara that heavy Jewish immigration would likewise be a way to make France wealthy. Thus, Napoleon clearly shared a contemporary view that had already been described by Le Breton in La Décade (April 19, 1798):
The Jews locate themselves in stages all the way from the Batavian Republic [the Netherlands] to the Indies; just as it would be necessary to establish them, if one wished to make use of them to revive the trade of yesteryear. They are in the ports of Italy, on the islands of the Archipelago, at Salonika, at Constantinople, in Cairo, at Alexandria, at Damascus, at Aleppo, and at Basra. They are rich and numerous in [North] Africa. They administer the finances, the coinage and the customs in the regencies of Algiers, of Tunis, of Tripoli and in the Empire of Morocco.

On Saint Helena, Napoleon prepared a history of his first Italian campaigns. Therein, he offers the specific phrase "droits de l'hospitalité" (laws of hospitality). This suggests that, in his view, some of the Jews at Ancona are merchants visiting from the Balkan lands, exactly like the Muslim traders there, who also come from the Ottoman Empire (circa 1819):
The Jews, numerous at Ancona, along with the Muslims of Albania and Greece, were there subjected to longstanding practices which were both humiliating and contrary to the laws of hospitality (contraire aux droits de l'hospitalité). One of the first cares of Napoleon was to emancipate them.
On this particular topic, the Journal de Francfort (September 4, 1797) prints the full text of an August 16th decree favoring subjects of the Ottoman Empire. This legal category most certainly includes East-Mediterranean Jewish merchants heading to Ancona. From Milan, "Buonaparte" orders "the generals commanding the various places of commerce occupied by the French in Italy to accord special protection to Ottoman subjects." He also stipulates that henceforth Ottoman subjects have the right to rent residential premises as they see fit, without any requirement to live together in the same house or to go home at a fixed hour.
General Desaix unequivocally tells us that Napoleon was in 1797 already running a major, anti-Ottoman propaganda operation out of Ancona. This specific revolutionary activity was later entrusted (November 14, 1798) to the Republic's agence d'Ancône, officially tasked with secretly preparing popular insurrections in the Ottoman Empire.

Make no mistake, Desaix's revealing passage cannot reasonably be read so as to exclude the many Jewish merchants who regularly went to trade in Ancona, where there was also a vibrant Jewish community, wild for the revolution and Napoleon. Nor can Desaix's quote be reasonably read so as to exclude the Jewish People from the phrase "all these nations," as used by Desaix to describe the various Peoples of the Ottoman Empire, which then stretched all the way from North Africa through Western Asia into the Balkan lands.

This spacious Ottoman geography is important for understanding Desaix's shorthand reference to "all of Africa, Greece." Looking at the map of the Ottoman Empire is also helpful for grasping the meaning of several subsequent citations that will speak of "Africa and Asia" or "Asia and Africa." In the pertinent 18th-century context, this continental couplet clearly points to the territory of the Ottoman Empire. This importantly included Turkey in Europe, which notably was home to a full one half of the Sultan's subjects.

The Ottoman Empire in 1801 (Cambridge University Press, 1913).
During the 18th century, Turkey stretched from Algiers, eastward along the coast
of North Africa, via Western Asia, to include almost all of the Balkan Peninsula.
Thus, the contemporary Habsburg diplomat and statesman Klemens von
Metternich quipped, "Asia begins at the Landstraße" in Vienna.

"Inventing" a revolutionary prophecy

A popular prophecy foretelling the 1799 fall of the Ottoman Empire is mentioned in the widely read, Le Propagateur (June 9, 1798). Simultaneous to the printing of Lettre d'un Juif, this same theme is laid out at length in an article published verbatim in the Paris daily newspapers La Clef du Cabinet des Souverains (June 8) and Le Moniteur (June 10, 1798).

The "prophecy" story is alleged to be a May 31, 1798 report from Frankfurt. This commonly means copied from the pages of the Journal de Francfort. But, no such news item appears in the Journal de Francfort, during the first half of 1798. Including the stipulated Frankfurt publication date, there is absolutely nothing in the "prophecy" tale that could not have been written earlier in 1798, as part of Napoleon's advance preparation of propaganda, for use on the eve of the French attack on Egypt.

The subtlety and skill of political argument powerfully point to Napoleon. The text showcases revolutionary Greeks, while smartly avoiding explicit confirmation that France has turned against the Ottoman Empire. For example, savor the mastery of the smooth evasion here (June 8, 1798):
Until recently, the Greeks did not like the French because of France's ties to the Turks, their oppressors. But now that the Latin clerics no longer have any influence on French policy, this aversion ought to easily disappear, to be replaced by the affection that arises for those that are seen and awaited as their liberators.
Exactly as in this "prophecy" tale, Napoleon is characteristically attracted to the theme of "destiny." This topic notably features, along with false prophecies, in some of his 1798-9 Mideast propaganda, aimed at Muslims. One way or another, his fingerprints are all over this carefully written "prophecy" piece. It is designed: firstly, to advance his own political career; secondly, to encourage rebellion against the Sultan; and, thirdly, like Lettre d'un Juif, to help prepare public opinion for imminent receipt of the news of the French attack on Ottoman Egypt (June 8, 1798):
Some Greeks who have recently traversed several provinces of the Ottoman Empire have observed that in Macedonia there has circulated for a few years a prophecy to the effect that: in 1799 a great empire will be overthrown. The Greeks claim that this prophecy announces their manumission (affranchissement).
From this arises the respect, approaching adoration, which they feel towards Bonaparte, whom they regard as the instrument designated by destiny for this great operation. They have already composed several songs about this general; and almost two years ago a single Greek merchant at the Leipzig fair bought 300 engravings of Bonaparte's portrait for distribution in the county of Larissa, one of the most enlightened regions of Macedonia. [...]
We know what we are supposed to think about prophecies, even when it is well attested that they have not been concocted, after the fact. But sometimes, it is by inventing them (en les inventant), and in adding belief in them, that they are prepared and assured of fulfillment.

Both the Lloyd's Evening-Post (August 7-9) and the Evening Mail (August 9-12) offer a fascinating, brief, virtually identical news item that is key for understanding the authorship, meaning, and pan-Ottoman scope of this fake prophecy, about early fall of the Sultan's empire (August 7-9, 1799):
From Smyrna [İzmir] it appears that, among some suspected goods lately stopped near Adrianople [Edirne], consigned to some Jews at Constantinople [İstanbul], a vast number of printed copies of prophecies, in Arabic, Turkish, and the language of the Franks, were found, all portending the immediate downfall of the Turkish Empire -- the manifest fabrication of some French agents at Widdin or Wallachia.
The rich information in this short London passage: firstly, seems to derive from an Ottoman account, by reason of the striking reference to "the language of the Franks"; secondly, links Constantinople Jews to the diffusion of this revolutionary propaganda; and, thirdly, confirms that the printings were not just in Greek (as would be presumed from the Paris reports above), but importantly in Arabic and Ottoman-Turkish, and also in "the language of the Franks."

This 1799 English noun "Franks" here probably points to the Ottoman-Turkish word Firenkler (فرنكلر) which means "Europeans." Thus, "the language of the Franks" can easily refer to Italian, which was the "foreign" language then most widespread in the Eastern Mediterranean. The pertinent linguistic logic is exactly as in the case of "franco" in the famous Mediterranean term lingua franca. This was the name for an international, maritime and port patois that was mostly drawn from the dialects of Genoa and Venice. In the same way, "the language of the Franks" can be understood as proper Italian or rather "Levant Italian" (italiano levantino). This conclusion is entirely consistent with the circumstance that the 18th-century Ottoman-Turkish expression for "Frenchmen" is not "Franks" (Firenklerفرنكلر), but rather Fransızlar (فرانسزلر). And, for the "French language," the Ottomans then say Fransızca (فرانسزجه) or Fransız lisanı (فرانسز لسانى).

The likelihood of such "prophecy" printings in Italian invites return to the topic of the linguistic range of the Jews of the 18th-century Eastern Mediterranean. Many of them were probably unable to read Greek, and perhaps had difficulty understanding much French. By contrast, many Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean would then have been able to quickly read the fake prophecy in Italian.

Here we are dealing with ephemera. Thus, there should be no surprise that no authentic copy of these printed prophecies from "Widdin or Wallachia" survives into the 21st century. Nonetheless, taken together, the cited Paris and London newspapers prove that such propaganda printings were indeed circulating, perhaps as early as 1797.  Not just aimed at Greeks, these fake prophecies were most definitely designed to subvert all the Ottoman Peoples, including the Jews.

Inflaming the Mideast: a royalist view 

A pioneer of modern political journalism, the Huguenot Jacques Mallet du Pan was a protégé of Voltaire. Mallet du Pan was first a professor of classics, but ultimately a well-connected and influential anti-revolutionary publicist, with ties to the British Foreign Office. In London, he produced the French-language Mercure Britannique, where in Volume 3 (1799), there is a remarkable essay on "Turkey."

Therein, his treatment of the Jews seems to reflect both Lettre d'un Juif (June 8, 1798) and the recent (May 17, 1799) London news that Napoleon had issued a proclamation inviting return to the ancient homeland. More to the point, Mallet du Pan's broader analysis is thoroughly consistent with: the September 1797 entry in Desaix's diary; the 1798-9 story about the fake prophecies; and what the Ottomans already knew about revolutionary subversion, starting with Napoleon's 1797 arrival on the Adriatic coast of Italy.

Mallet du Pan's account is perhaps in some places exaggerated or inaccurate. Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore his astute general assessment of the French Republic's Mideast intentions and tactics. These specifically include plans for the Jews (May 25, 1799):
Buonaparte is sure to strengthen the force of arms with all that can be added by the refinements of politics; the tricks of charlatanism; and the arts of division, flattery, and corruption. He implements a plan that has been considered and prepared for a long time. He has been provided with helpers who are only awaiting his success in order to declare themselves.
He will re-establish the Jews in Palestine. This aim was agreed in Paris between the Directory and a yet standing committee of Israelites, deputies of the various countries of Europe and Asia. The plan for their République hébraïque (Hebrew Republic) is ready. They will restore the Tabernacle in Jerusalem. There, their numbers and financial resources will assist the restorer of their political existence (le restaurateur de leur existence politique).
Also sitting in Paris is another committee made up of Christian schismatics, belonging to the principal sects of the Archipelago and Asia. This Christian committee receives and transmits information; serves to facilitate communications; designates the emissaries to be employed; dispatches orders; and directs preliminary operations, translations and printing. It is the workshop of revolutionary measures.
The loss of the Mediterranean and Corfu, the awakening of the Ottoman Porte, and the appearance of the Russians have slowed and embarrassed these pestilential connections. But, their authors manage to surmount these obstacles via still more ardor, activity and perseverance that the Turkish police are unable to fight.
Work of the same order has borne fruit among the Peoples of the Lebanon and Mount Carmel. Well known is the impatience with which the Druze and the Christians of these valleys have always suffered Muslim domination. There is no need for me to remind you of their frequent revolts or the harshness with which they have been treated. The Consuls of France at Aleppo and Tripoli in Syria have for three years been exchanging information with these restive tribes which are always ready to unite with the first leader who promises to free them from the Turks.
Their country has been inundated with hymns, poems, writings of all kinds, in which they are called to freedom (la liberté). Thus we can consider the revolution as secretly organized from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, and from Suez to the borders of Karamania [south-central Anatolia].

The émigré Jacques Mallet du Pan, 1749-1800.
As editor of the Mercure Britannique of London, he produced
an astonishing May 25, 1799 analysis of Bonaparte's

intentions and tactics in the Ottoman east.  

A proclamation to the Jews before 1799

News of an undated revolutionary proclamation to the Jews reached the Ottoman Turks certainly before Selim III declared war against France (September 10, 1798); and probably during the Muslim year 1212, which began on June 26, 1797 and ended at sundown on June 14, 1798. That is what we learn from the Ottoman Empire's chosen historiographer, Ahmet Cevdet Pasha who intellectually was a towering figure. To the point, the high quality of Cevdet's historical writing has been praised by Bernard Lewis (1953).

In the mid-19th century, Cevdet began producing in the Ottoman-Turkish language, for the period 1774-1826, an authoritative twelve volumes, based mainly on documents in the imperial archives in Constantinople. As the Ottoman Empire's officially-appointed chronicler (Ottoman: vakanüvis وقائع نوىس), Cevdet had to be very careful about sequence and chronology. He was neither ambiguous nor confused in clearly pointing to the several months before the September 1798 Ottoman declaration of war against France.

Written in the Ottoman-Turkish language,
Ahmet Cevdet Pasha, Tarih-i Cevdet, Vol. 6, p. 282,
New Edition, 2nd Printing (H. 1309).

Professionally scrupulous about identifying his various sources, Cevdet specifically writes that it was then heard, "from the mouth of a Jew" (بر يهودى آغزندن), that as "understood from a printed and published official declaration" (بر بياننامه قالمه آلنه رق طبع و نشر ايله), Jews from all over had been invited to agree on "establishing a Jewish government in Jerusalem" (قدس شريفده بر يهود حكومتى تشكيل).

Jews as secret agents

Who was this Jew who in 1798 told the Ottomans about the official declaration for a Jewish government in Jerusalem? It is impossible to say. Mideast Jews as secret agents of France's Army of the East will be described later in connection with Napoleon's wartime propaganda originating in Egypt and Ottoman Syria. Here it suffices to say that he also had Jewish spies, agents or emissaries in the Balkans. For example, the Directory's mouthpiece, Le Moniteur published a Constantinople report (May 13, 1799):
On the 16th of this month [April 5, 1799] in the Bostanji-Bashi prison, the Porte had strangled to death a Jewish physician, lately come from Rushcuk [Ruse on the Danube] with the Kapudan Pasha [November 1798]. Definite proof had been acquired that he was a secret emissary of the French.
More Jewish spies and secret emissaries? The Turks certainly thought so. After the first week of September 1798, they would not let young Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav (Ukraine) disembark in Jaffa, because they thought he was a French spy. And, it seems that they perhaps had some reason to be concerned about Jews, many of whom were then dazzled by Napoleon.

Until the Dey of Algiers (January 9, 1799) followed the lead of his Ottoman suzerain in declaring war against France, Marseilles members of the prominent Algerian Jewish merchant families Bacri and Abucaya were used by the Directory for transmitting secret dispatches to Napoleon in Egypt. Moreover, The Observer of London carries a June 29, 1799 letter from Algiers, about the execution of a couple of Jewish spies there (September 1, 1799):
Last week two rich Jews had their heads struck off, by the order of the Dey, and their bodies burnt to ashes, for having in their possession plans and accounts of the forces, etc., and for favouring the French.
In 1799, the Directory appointed two Jewish secret emissaries to carry confidential papers to Napoleon in Egypt. Twenty-one years of age, the Jewish soldier Samson Cerfberr de Medelsheim was sent out from Paris with dispatches in April, but captured by the British Navy off Sardinia. Forty-eight years of age, the Polish Jew Zalkind Hourvitz was a prize-winning essayist, veteran revolutionary, and ex-employee of the Bibliothèque Nationale. He was just about to begin his journey from Paris to Egypt, when news arrived of Napoleon's return to France (October 1799).

Another example of a Jewish secret agent was the radical English publicist Lewis Goldsmith. Throughout the 1790s, he openly championed the cause of the French Revolution. No later than 1800, he was secretly on Talleyrand's payroll to produce London propaganda against the policies of Prime Minister William Pitt, the Younger. In January 1801, Goldsmith published The Crimes of Cabinets, subtitled "a review of their plans and aggressions for the annihilation of the liberties of France and the dismemberment of her territories." He was later a Paris editor and propagandist, and also a spy for Napoleon in Europe. Eventually, Goldsmith turned against Napoleon. In fact, Goldsmith became so famous as a vitriolic critic of the French Emperor that, after the Bourbon restoration, Goldsmith earned a pension from King Louis XVIII of France.

Napoleon's propaganda resented by Turkey 

From 1797 the Turks were fully alive to the modern political meaning of all those French references to the glories of ancient Greece. In retrospective analysis, Cevdet Pasha understood the revolutionary evocations of ancient Greece and biblical Jerusalem to be identical in terms of source, time, and anti-Ottoman motive. On either side, contemporary diplomatic correspondence and other evidence show that the Turks then knew that Napoleon and his local commanders were publishing inflammatory proclamations and dispatching letters and subversive emissaries to spark revolt against the Sultan on the Aegean islands, and in Morea and Rumelia.

Such efforts were certainly aimed at revolutionizing Greeks. But, there were also important Jewish communities on the islands of Crete and Rhodes. And, Rumelia included the heavily-Jewish city of Salonika, as well as Edirne and Larissa where there were also many thousands of Jews. In the Morea, there was a major Jewish presence in Tripolis, but also Jewish communities at Mystras, Kalamata and Patras. Large numbers of Jews lived in Constantinople, Bursa, Izmir, Aleppo, Damascus, Safed, Jerusalem, Alexandria; as well as in so many other places of the Ottoman Empire.

The Foreign Minister (Ottoman: reis-ül-küttab رئيس الكتاب‎) and the Dragoman of the Porte repeatedly protested to the French Embassy in Constantinople, as in late 1797 and again in June and July 1798. These Ottoman grievances were embodied in a long memorandum shared with the diplomatic corps simultaneous to Turkey's declaration of war against France (September 10, 1798).

The Ottomans were astute in articulating the French strategic conception of la grande nation: "Everywhere weak republics would be created which France would keep under its tutelage, so that everything everywhere would go according to its arbitrary will." The foregoing and other generous excerpts from the Ottoman memorandum appeared one month later in the Wiener Zeitung (October 10, 1798):
One knows about Bonaparte's letter [July 30, 1797] to the Maniotes and of other distributed writings of his deceitful genius. When the Sublime Porte in the strongest terms complained about this, the French government downplayed the matter and undertook to stop it immediately, saying that it wished nothing else than to strengthen the old friendship. But, the [French] generals did not in the least change their behavior. To the contrary, they were even more enterprising and cunning than before.
Napoleon was not just contacting the Maniotes. There were most certainly other recipients of the "distributed writings of his deceitful genius." This is proven by: the entry in General Desaix's diary; Mallet du Pan's description of France's propaganda in the Near and Mideast; and Cevdet Pasha's specific reference to a revolutionary proclamation issued to the Jews, in 1797-8.

Maniotes but not Jews?

Napoleon himself recruited his own spies and emissaries, even paying them personally or signing their bank drafts. His modus operandi and rationale relating to the oppressed Peoples of the Ottoman Empire is exemplified by his efforts aimed at the Maniotes. They then numbered no more than 40,000 or perhaps even as few as eight to ten thousand, according to an 1803 Ottoman estimate.

From Milan, Napoleon wrote to the Chief of the Maniotes (July 30, 1797): "The French value the small, but brave Maniote People who alone of ancient Greece has known how to preserve its liberty." On that same day, Napoleon wrote to Arnault on Corfu that he wished to know more about "the situation and forces of this small People" and "what could be expected from them if ever the Ottoman Empire experiences a convulsion." He then informed the Directory (August 1, 1797):
The Chief of the Maniotes, a people who trace genuine descent from the Spartiatae, and who occupy the peninsula on which Cape Matapan is situated, has sent one of his principal men to express to me his wish to see French vessels in his port, and to be of some service to the Great Nation.
Already known to Napoleon were Dimo Stephanopoulos and his nephew Nicolo, both born and raised in Corsica. Napoleon first checked to make sure that the two were really fluent in their ancestral Maniote dialect of Greek, and then sent them in September 1797 to sow "seeds of true liberty" in Mani. The diplomatic letter that the Stephanopouli carried to Mani explicitly recognized the peoplehood of the Maniote "nation" which was celebrated as descending from ancient Sparta. According to Napoleon, the Revolutionary French Republic and the Maniotes were "two nations equally friends of liberty."

Napoleon specifically saluted Maniote peoplehood and tried to subvert the few Maniotes. Therefore, why would anyone doubt Cevdet Pasha's official account of a 1797-8 revolutionary appeal to the Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire? True, the Maniotes were famous as fierce warriors. But, in the Ottoman Empire, Jews were certainly more numerous than Maniotes, not to mention the millions of Jews across Europe. Moreover, revolutionary Jews had already shown that they too could fight. Finally, there can be no doubt that Napoleon believed that Jews could offer special advantages in connection with international trade.

Napoleon Bonaparte in the Mideast, 1798-1799.
The Revolutionary French Republic and Bonaparte then
strongly championed the new political principles of
popular sovereignty and the self-determination of Peoples.
Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1863).

Propaganda for niche markets

Napoleon always placed exceptional emphasis on communications and public relations, including revolutionary propaganda custom-made for niche audiences, in various places. For example, from late 1796, he was promising to "revolutionize" Hungary. His proclamation to the Army of Italy rhapsodized (March 10, 1797): "It is freedom (la liberté) that you will bring to the brave Hungarian nation." With evident understanding of the distinct propaganda utility of each of French, Hungarian, German and Italian, Napoleon wrote to General Charles-François-Joseph Dugua who was then in Trieste (March 26, 1797):
You will find attached a copy of my proclamation to the army that you will arrange to translate into German, Hungarian, Italian; that you will arrange to print and seek to distribute in Hungary to the greatest extent that you are able. You will send me five hundred copies of them in Hungarian, five hundred in German, and two hundred in Italian.
Additional "pamphlet" propaganda, perhaps also printed in Latin, aimed at sparking insurrection in Hungary. To the point, the Austrian intelligence agency, the Polizeihofstelle, told the Habsburg Emperor Francis II, who was also King of Hungary (December 27, 1797):
Although one is already accustomed to Bonaparte's boastful tone, it is still very noteworthy that he says, via published pamphlets that have come straight from Hungary, that this kingdom's transformation into a republic depends on him.
As General-in-Chief of the Army of Italy (1796-7), Napoleon had always been specially concerned about the availability of both printing presses and foreign-language typeface. For example, he repeatedly signaled urgent need for Greek and Arabic characters, the latter also useful for printing in Ottoman-Turkish.

Mideast propaganda 1798

Less than a week after his Army of the Orient disembarked in Ottoman Egypt, Napoleon ordered (July 7, 1798) French, Arabic and Greek printing to begin within twenty-four hours. He wanted four thousand Arabic-language proclamations pronto. He frequently wrote to ensure that his proclamations were distributed to the inhabitants of Egypt.

Napoleon was also astute and proactive in finding imaginative ways to spread his proclamations in Greater Syria, to which regular travel was still possible during July and August 1798. For example, the French invasion fleet had carried from Malta some of the prisoners freed from slavery, imposed by the Knights of Saint John. Napoleon made sure that the former prisoners heading home to "Syria" were equipped with copies of his proclamations, which were probably also made available to ordinary travelers heading eastward.

From July 1798, Napoleon was trying to send as many spies as possible from Egypt to Ottoman Syria. Such spies, emissaries and agents carried secret letters and Napoleon's various proclamations. For example, before the end of 1798, he authorized production of an Arabic-language proclamation "to the inhabitants of Syria," which is discussed below.

There is no reason to presume that Jews were lacking among the Malta prisoners, other travelers, and the many spies that Napoleon sent to "Syria." These Jews likely packed the printed proclamations for "the inhabitants of Syria." And, just as suggested by Mallet du Pan, they perhaps also carried seditious hymns, poetry, pamphlets, leaflets, and secret letters; maybe including one or more texts, specially crafted for the Jewish communities of Ottoman Syria.

The supposition that Mideast Jews carried various secret papers for Napoleon is confirmed by a contemporary account in the Lloyd's Evening-Post.This newspaper article describes some of the measures that Napoleon took to try to get his dispatches, through the British naval blockade, to the Directory in Paris (April 1-3, 1799):
His official papers of description are printed in multiplied copies, and intrusted to itinerant Syrians, Jews, etc., who frequent the Egyptian marts, and who are paid for conveying them clandestinely to Scanderoon [İskenderun], Berut [Beirut], or St. Jean d'Acre [Akko], in hopes of meeting in those places with some neutral vessel that will forward them to France. Among the collection now published are several copies of Buonaparte's last dispatches, which were discovered plaited in the clothes of a Jew at Acre. 

Grands prêtres de la nation juive

Any special messages from Napoleon for Jews could have been handwritten, or possibly even printed in Hebrew, because 18th-century Cairo already had presses working with Hebrew characters. Such postulated propaganda for Jews would probably have contained revolutionary exhortations, and also religious references to soon rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Included would have been the astonishing news that, for the first time in 1,728 years, there were once again high priests of the Jewish People, "grands prêtres de la nation juive."

Napoleon was intelligent; highly educated; and always extremely interested in details of the various religions, which he exploited politically. As First Consul of the Republic, he told the Council of State (August 16, 1800):
It is by making myself Catholic that I brought an end to the war in the Vendée; by making myself Muslim that I established myself in Egypt; by making myself ultramontane that I won over minds in Italy. If I governed a nation of Jews, I would rebuild the Temple of Solomon.
His diverse writings and occasional conversations show that he probably well understood the historical and theological distinction between a modern rabbi (rabbin) and a biblical Jewish priest (prêtre), and between an ordinary synagogue and the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Thus, there was likely lateral thinking, strategy, and shrewd propaganda in his Cairo order (September 7, 1798) authorizing Jewish community organization. The pertinent point is his naming of two "grands prêtres de la nation juive." The issue is his choice of striking "grand prêtre" terminology, which harks back to the Temple. He probably did so deliberately, in order to appeal to millennial Jewish hopes for rebuilding the Temple.

News of the appointment of such high priests would solo suffice to explain the excitement and enhanced messianic expectation that arose among Mideast Jews upon Napoleon's entry into the Holy Land (February 1799). The rumor that he would then go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple was recorded by Napoleon himself around 1819, in his own historical account of the "Syrian" campaign.

1798 proclamation to inhabitants of Syria

This little known Napoleon document deserves special attention, including because it does not appear in the principal, standard collections of his product. On February 19, 1799, The True Briton of London published the English translation of this undated, Arabic proclamation that Napoleon had preemptively addressed to "the inhabitants of Syria." (Editorially dated December 1798, a somewhat shorter French-language translation was published by Christian August Fischer, in Leipzig in 1808.)

We can be dead certain that this proclamation "to the inhabitants of Syria" originated before 1799, due to the average slow speed of late 18th-century communications from Egypt to Constantinople, and then onward to Vienna and London. Thus, Napoleon drafted this propaganda proleptically, i.e. written as a "flash forward" into the future. Specifically, he must have arranged for preparation of this Arabic document, at a minimum, fifty days before he left Cairo (February 10, 1799) to cross the Sinai Desert.

As late as December 15, 1798, Napoleon's local organ Le Courrier de l'Égypte was still stubbornly sticking to his original propaganda line that the French were in Egypt as allies of the Ottoman sultan. Moreover, a later edition of the same paper says the Ottoman flag was still flying (June 13, 1799) over the French garrison in the fort at Qusayr, on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea. Thus, the timing, tenor and contents of the "proclamation to the inhabitants of Syria" suggest that it was probably not intended for immediate release to the general public in Egypt. Rather, it was likely designed for secret infiltration into "Syria," for circulation before and during Napoleon's campaign there. Consistent with revolutionary doctrine, the divinity of Christ is denied, and the populace invited to rally to Napoleon's banner (1798):
Cairo the Great, Alexandria the Powerful, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Ptolemaïs [Acre], and Damaïs [Damascus], the plains and the ancient monuments which surround those Cities, have witnessed the approach of our Armies [carefully note and remember the foregoing "fast forward" prolepsis], whose power is infinite, and incomprehensible even to the wise. Protection to every City which shall open its gates to us! But woe to those Cities and their inhabitants, which shall reject our beneficence! It is to declare this truth to all Syria that we have issued this Proclamation which is irrevocable. If you repair to our standard, you will never be forsaken -- if not, the sword of vengeance shall reach your heads.

London, The True Briton, Number 1922,
Tuesday, February 19, 1799.

This piece is noteworthy as absent from the main,
standard, printed collections of Napoleon's documents. 

Mideast propaganda 1799

The Ottomans derided such proclamations as lying "sweet talk." Nonetheless, after Napoleon's army took Gaza (February 25, 1799), there were more proclamations for Muslims and also a series of individual messages for Christians in the Lebanon, Nazareth and Jerusalem.

On March 7, 1799, Napoleon conquered Jaffa. First the town was sacked. Then, after the initial slaughter, there were some premeditated mass killings of civilians and prisoners of war. Specifically, the extermination of the Ottoman prisoners of war continued until March 10th. Napoleon exploited this horror to send four separate proclamations to threaten the Muslims of Acre; Jerusalem; Nablus; and Gaza, Ramle and Jaffa. In each case, he asked them to choose between submission and the terrors of war. In the letter to the latter three towns of the coastal strip, he characteristically invoked the notion of destiny (March 9, 1799):
It is good for you to know that all human efforts are useless against me, because everything that I undertake must succeed. Those who declare themselves to be my friends prosper. Those who declare themselves to be my enemies perish. The example which has just happened at Gaza and Jaffa ought to make you know that, if I can be terrible to my enemies, I am good to my friends and above all mild and merciful to the poor people.
Later, from his siege camp near Acre, he also wrote a private letter to court Bashir Shihab II, the Emir of the Druze (March 20, 1799): "My intention is to make the Druze nation independent, to lighten the tribute which it pays, and to deliver to it the port of Beirut and other towns necessary for the outflow of its commerce."

Jewish history weighed heavily

Despite revolutionary secularism, Napoleon took ancient Jewish history very seriously. He had read Jacques Basnage's History of the Jews, and made some notes on Jewish topics. Before sailing for Egypt (May 19, 1798), Napoleon had prepared a list of around 550 military and other books that he wanted on board. Likely among the military titles there was the famous eyewitness account of Roman generalship in first-century Judea, in The Jewish War by Josephus. This was a book that Napoleon knew well (June 6, 1797). Moreover, what has survived of Napoleon's list of books classifies the Catholic Old Testament under the heading of "politics," along with some other titles like the Koran and Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws (De l'esprit des lois). An hour before Napoleon's departure from Cairo for the "Syrian" campaign, he writes to the Directory (February 10, 1799): "When you read this letter, it is possible that I might be on the ruins of the city of Solomon."

Regarding the "Syrian" campaign, Napoleon reminisced (January 1813): "I constantly read Genesis when visiting the places it describes and was amazed beyond measure that they were still exactly as Moses had described them." During his exile on Saint Helena, Napoleon personally completed (circa 1819) a careful account of the campaign. He again recalled that he and his entourage were struck by the accuracy of the descriptions in the Catholic Old Testament, which Monge read aloud to them in the evenings, in the tent of the General-in-Chief.

Exactly as predicted in his 1798 proleptic proclamation to the inhabitants of Syria, Napoleon's soldiers came close to Jerusalem. But he was careful not to take the Holy City, because he wanted to move fast to first capture the fortified ports at Jaffa and Acre. Moreover, for political reasons, he wished to parry any Muslim perception that he might yet be just another Roman-Catholic Crusader. But despite their revolutionary scorn for Christianity, his troops were still "burning to see" sacred sites like the "plateau of the Temple of Solomon," as Napoleon specifically recollected circa 1819.

Why not the Jews?

Just as Napoleon knew the Jews to be the aboriginal People of the Land of Israel (Heb: אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬ Eretz Yisrael), so too he was aware that the Christian Copts were the aboriginal People of Egypt. It is often forgotten that Napoleon wrote a reply to a letter he had received from the Copts, who then (as today) were a persecuted minority in Egypt (December 7, 1798):
Citizen, I have received the letter from the Copt People (la nation copte). It will always be a pleasure for me to protect it. Henceforth, it will no longer be degraded, and, when circumstances will permit, which I perceive to be not too far in the future, I will accord it the right to publicly exercise its religion; just as is the practice in Europe, where each person is entitled to follow his own belief. I will severely punish those villages which killed Copts in the different rebellions. As of today, you can announce to them that I permit them to bear arms; to ride on either donkeys or horses; and to wear turbans and clothing, as they themselves see fit.

So, in 1798, Napoleon had troubled to write a letter to the aboriginal Copts; and in 1799, to the Emir of the Druze, and also a special proclamation to the Sheikh of Nablus. But nothing either for the Jews of Ottoman Syria or for the great Jewish People of world history? Before and during his "Syrian" campaign, Napoleon certainly sought to derive advantage from every other significant component of the local population. Thus, it would have been exceedingly peculiar for Napoleon to have omitted communications or approaches to Jews.

However, most Jews in "Syria" were wisely far too afraid of the prospect of brutal Ottoman retaliation to have much to do with the French invaders. Nonetheless, several accounts say that Napoleon met with a group of Jews, at some time during the week immediately following the conquest of Jaffa (March 7th). This meeting likely occurred shortly after he had written (March 9th), in eight to ten copies, inviting the inhabitants of Jerusalem to send representatives to his camp, in order to promise that they would do nothing to harm him.

Such a Napoleon meeting with Jews is credible, if only because one of the accounts includes the exceedingly rare, but well-substantiated detail, that Napoleon was then residing in the requisitioned, seaside home of the consular agent Antonio Damiani, who was a Christian. Damiani represented Britain and various other parties, including the Constantinople rabbinate in helping disembarking Jewish pilgrims find lodging in Jaffa. There, in Damiani's home, the Jews told Napoleon that he was the savior of the Jewish People. Speaking in Italian, he questioned them about the present situation of the Jews in the country, their expectations for the future, and some pertinent points of Jewish history.

Without reference to the meeting in Damiani's home, it has been suggested that Napoleon, at some time during his first week in Jaffa, probably wrote an appeal to the Jews. Despite the slow speed of 18th-century travel from Jaffa to Europe, news of such a postulated document could conceivably have reached West-European cities soon enough to trigger the "proclamation" stories that can still be read in at least nineteen European publications, printed from mid to late May, 1799. If so, any office copy of the Jaffa document that Napoleon would have kept for the record, was likely purposely destroyed in the 19th century, exactly as explained in the preface.

Secret agents & "legitimate heirs of Palestine"

Around 1819, Napoleon remembered that the French Revolutionary Army had in early 1799 sent Jewish agents to Damascus and Aleppo. The implication was that their mission was to secretly gather intelligence and discreetly stimulate local Jewish support. If so, did they confidentially invoke revolutionary doctrines of "liberty, equality and fraternity"? Did their discreet propaganda portray Napoleon as ready to sponsor restoration of the Jerusalem Temple?

Perhaps linked to one or more of these Jewish agents in the Mideast is a pitch-perfect document that, without financial or other material reward, first surfaced in 1940 London. Originating from Nazi Vienna (August 1939), it was typed at the last moment by an elderly Jewish refugee, Ernst Foges. He used a typewriter to transcribe onto onion-skin paper the text embodied in a larger and thicker, linen-paper document that his family had treasured for four generations. Judging from companion letters in his family archive, Foges suspected the old, sturdy document to be in the handwriting of his great-grandfather, Wolf Fleckeles (1774-1849), or perhaps in that of Wolf's older brother, the famous Prague Rabbi Eleazar Fleckeles (1754-1826).

Without specifying source language, the text speaks for itself in saying that it is a 1799 translation into German from a Napoleon letter, dated April 20, 1799. Here, let us recall both the precedent of the police/judicial translation from Greek into German of the 1797 Rigas proclamation and the real rigors of the reactionary regime in the Habsburg Monarchy.

Karl Fischer, likely translator

We can suppose that the 1799 translation into German was probably from a Hebrew-language original. This hypothesis partly rests on the probability that Eleazar Fleckeles got the opportunity to hand copy the text of the 1799 official German-language translation, thanks to his friend Karl Fischer (1757-1844). Fischer was well known as Imperial and Royal Censor, Reviser and Translator in Hebrew, for the many years from 1789 to 1844. It was likely Fischer who in 1799 translated the alleged Napoleon document from Hebrew into German, perhaps at the special request of the Polizeihofstelle in Vienna. More details about Karl Fischer and the Fleckeles family appear in later paragraphs on "the proclamation in Prague."

Likely translator, Karl Fischer invents the title, "Letter to the Jewish Nation from the French General-in-Chief Buonaparte." This invention is probable because, throughout the letter itself, the reference is to "Israelites," with no mention of "Jews" or "Jewish." After the bureaucratic title affixed by the translator, the body of the actual letter begins with the alleged place of origin, "Hauptquartier Jerusalem" (Headquarters Jerusalem); and the date, according to the revolutionary calendar, "1. Floreal im Jahre 7 der französischen Republik" (1 Floréal, Year VII of the French Republic).

L'armée d'Orient

Thereafter follows the name of sender and addressees: "Buonaparte, General-in-Chief of the Armies of the French Republic in Africa and Asia, to the legitimate heirs of Palestine!" But even in 1798-9, exceedingly well known as the formal name for Napoleon's military command was the exotic and compelling phrase, l'armée d'Orient (Army of the East). For this reason, any rational forger aiming at credibility via verisimilitude, would most likely have made sure to use the correct, official designation for Napoleon's army.

By contrast, as a skilled propagandist, Napoleon himself had other priorities for his writing. Thus, weighing in favor of the letter's authenticity is that here, as elsewhere, Napoleon likes the glamour of a border between two famous continents. Whether in 1798-9 or around 1819, his pen offers us several other grandiose references to Africa and Asia. Specifically here, as elsewhere in the pertinent context, the continental couplet refers to Ottoman territory; just as l'armée d'Orient clearly denotes the French Army operating in the Ottoman Empire.

Buonaparte vs. Bonaparte

Some historians strangely try to make much of the letter's "Italianate" spelling of Napoleon's family name. But, no inference can be drawn from the reference to "Buonaparte." This particular objection to authenticity is simply foolish, because 18th-century usage on this point is notably inconsistent. For example, both spellings occur even within the short text of his July 21, 1771 baptismal certificate. This is written in Italian which was commonly the language of local administration on Corsica until the mid 19th century. Thus, on December 28, 1792, "Napoleone Buonaparte" sends out Italian-language invitations to an Ajaccio ceremony.

In any event, at issue in the April 20th letter is a self-declared translation into German. The translator, whether Karl Fischer or another, might easily have himself opted for the family-name spelling most familiar in contemporary German usage. In 1799 both variants are commonly used in the European press, sometimes even in Le Moniteur.

Prolepsis: "Headquarters Jerusalem"

In that specific year, April 20th was notably the first day of Passover, which is pertinently a Jewish holiday celebrating the theme of the national liberation of the Jewish People. Close to that time, Napoleon repeatedly wrote that he expected the early capture of Ottoman Acre which he was sure would make a big impression on the local populations. To the point, the contemporary documents tell us that he was then confident that Acre's imminent fall would trigger the voluntary submission of Jerusalem and Damascus. Moreover, the April 20th letter itself says that the French army would be advancing to Damascus within a few days.

His proven expectation about soon conquering Acre perhaps explains why, for added political force, the April 20th letter falsely (or rather proleptically) identifies Jerusalem as already the site of his headquarters. This "prolepsis" possibility is not to be dismissed lightly. We have already seen similar "flash forward" prolepsis, specifically with regard to Jerusalem, in Napoleon's 1798 proclamation to the inhabitants of Syria. Prolepsis is a literary device, the utility of which Napoleon well understood.

"Forgery" easy to say, harder to explain

The letter's factually incorrect location of Napoleon's headquarters at Jerusalem seems to discount the possibility of a European forgery made at any time after August 1799. Certainly from September 1799, it was too easily known in Europe that Napoleon had in fact never captured the Holy City. Moreover, a rapidly growing body of published accounts of the "Syrian" campaign conclusively confirmed that Napoleon had never been in Jerusalem. Thus, what are the odds that (an otherwise astute) forger would so carelessly site Napoleon's headquarters there? This particular aspect powerfully argues that the alleged Napoleon letter is unlikely to be a counterfeit confected at any time after August 1799.

From mid-May to September 1799, there was no conceivable motive for anyone in Europe to forge such a letter. Below, we shall see compelling evidence that, from mid-May 1799, Europeans generally believed that Napoleon had indeed issued a proclamation to the "Jews of Africa and Asia," about which much more will be said later. But, for the present, it suffices to ask: Why go to the trouble and risk of forging the alleged Napoleon letter of April 20th, when incoming Mideast mail was, in the normal course of events, commonly expected to soon produce the full, authentic text of Napoleon's invitation to the Jews?

Given late 18th-century logistics, it is absolutely impossible for a communication that had been issued in or near Jerusalem on April 20, 1799, to feature in one or more West-European newspapers as early as mid-May of that same year. For this reason, the letter's April 20th date is in itself one of the main objections to any theory alleging a forgery made after mid-May 1799. From then right down to the present day, it has always been too well known that one or more West-European newspapers had already carried reports of an undated Napoleon proclamation to the "Jews of Africa and Asia."

Thus, after mid-May 1799, any rational forger would likely try to piggyback on the substantial credibility of those newspaper items. Namely, he would probably opt to count backwards from the earliest known day of European newspaper publication, in order to cleverly date his own Napoleon fabrication no later than mid-March 1799. Such antedating would be logically necessary to accommodate the more-or-less two months then normally required for "Holy Land" news to slowly wend its way to Western Europe.

Forgery by the Directory?

The unlikelihood of a forgery made at any time after mid-May 1799, logically leaves open the possibility of a forgery perhaps crafted in the couple of months before the second half of May; namely, before fifteen West-European newspapers announced that Napoleon had published a proclamation, specifically addressed to the Jews of Africa and Asia. If the April 20th letter, to "Israelites" everywhere, was indeed forged in the weeks before mid-May 1799, the prime suspects as forgers would surely be French intelligence agents, arguably acting on secret orders from the Directory.

This guess is partly based on the letter's style and content, including its striking similarity to the 1798 Lettre d'un Juif, which is probably also official propaganda, whether or not from the pen of Napoleon. Moreover, it must be acknowledged that the political ideology and motives for the April 20th letter would be approximately the same, whether the text truly emanates from Napoleon in the Mideast or is a forgery by the Directory's agents in Paris or elsewhere.

For the French government, the clear wartime motives would be: firstly, sowing revolutionary unrest among large Jewish populations in enemy States like Austria, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire; and, secondly, suggesting to millenarian Christians everywhere that the Revolutionary French Republic is doing God's work by restoring the Jews to the Holy Land.

Perhaps inspired by the possible State secret that Napoleon himself had written Lettre d'un Juif, the Directory's agents maybe forged the letter, dated April 20, 1799. If so, they fabricated their forgery in the broader context of what they then surmised to be true about current events in the Holy Land. Their pertinent ideas were probably mostly wrong, because in early 1799, there was little or no communication with Napoleon, due to the British naval blockade. Thus, the contemporary Paris press creatively imagined that: Napoleon had captured Jerusalem (false); France's revolutionary army there was powerfully supplemented with tens of thousands of Coptic, Greek and Jewish recruits (mostly false); French forces were fighting with the help of the Druze and the Maronites of Mount Lebanon (false); and, if victorious in Ottoman Syria, Napoleon intended to advance further, perhaps even to Constantinople (true).

Later we shall see documentary proof that the Directory had, in February 1799, been twice reminded of the advantages to be gained by exploiting the stubborn attachment of Jews to both Jerusalem and their aboriginal homeland. Thus, most pertinently aimed at "Israelites" everywhere, the alleged Napoleon letter might well be a forgery by French secret agents. If so, it was likely triggered by the outbreak of war between France and Austria (March 12, 1799). At that critical juncture, the several countries of the Second Coalition seemed poised to defeat the Revolutionary French Republic. Then near desperation, the Directory was ready to employ every conceivable expedient to weaken the reactionary countries attacking France.

Biblical citations

Napoleon's 1798-9 proclamations for Muslims were intentionally drafted with something of an Islamic flavor. In the same vein, this letter to "Israelites" is peppered with biblical personalities and citations. For example, the letter specifically points to the Prophet Joel whose book is marked by rousing calls to arms, and predictions of divine retribution against the persecutors of the "sons of Judah."

The two specific references to the Book of Joel, chapter four, signal that the source is perhaps the Jewish Bible which distinctively divides the Book of Joel into four chapters. But, some versions of the Greek Septuagint also present the Book of Joel in four chapters. Thus, in drafting this letter, Napoleon might perhaps have had the help of somebody able to read biblical Hebrew and/or Greek. To the point, among his official translators in 1798-9 were two Mideast Greek Catholics (Melkites), namely Raphael de Monachis and Elias Pharaon.

The Catholic Old Testament is perhaps the source for the letter's important reference to the First Book of Maccabees which is notably absent from both the Jewish Bible and the Protestant versions. Thus, this letter is unlikely to be from a Jewish pen. No matter what the sect or stripe, no Jew in his right mind would in 1799 try to influence other Jews generally, with a citation from the Catholic Old Testament, which pertinently was part of Napoleon's field library. However, it is to be noted that the First Book of Maccabees also features in the Greek Septuagint.

In any event, Napoleon's authorship of this letter is suggested by its celebration of "Israelites" as descendants of the Maccabees, who are honored as heroes worthy of their "fraternal alliance" with Sparta and Rome. This obscure diplomatic detail, taken straight from the First Book of Maccabees, is exactly the kind of classical reference that fascinated Napoleon. Here, the rhetoric regarding Rome and Sparta matches his usual perorations elsewhere.

Napoleon's fingerprints

Significantly, this letter seems to refer to the outbreak of the War of the Second Coalition. This is a coordinated attack on France that the Directory predicts in a November 4, 1798 dispatch to Napoleon. He receives this bad news near Acre on March 25, 1799. To the point, the alleged Napoleon letter of April 20th portrays France as fighting in self-defense to guard her own territory against theft by foreign Cabinets.

Thus, France is presented as fighting a just war that also helps fulfill a revolutionary duty to avenge the disgrace of "forgotten nations long under the yoke of slavery." Here ringing authentic are legal and moral justifications for the French Republic, which is highlighted as la grande nation, in the German text "die große Nation." This is a prominent foreign-relations concept that features frequently in Napoleon's public writing during the late 1790s.

For sure, this letter dovetails with Napoleon's characteristic formula so authoritatively described in General Desaix's diary (September 1797): "He reminds them of their ancient glory, their ancient name; he instructs them about the astonishing and prodigious feats of the French."

Aboriginal rights of "Israelites"

With the German words, Erben (heirs), Erbteil (inheritance), Erbländer (hereditrary lands) and Erbreich (hereditary dominion), heavy emphasis is placed on the notion of hereditary or aboriginal right which is logically companion to an ancient name. Such onomastic pedigree is something that we have already seen to be often emphasized in Napoleon's rhetoric. "Israelites" are twice addressed as "the lawful heirs of Palestine" and encouraged to hasten home to reclaim their patrimony. Similarly, the expression "Israels Erbteil" points to the millennial legacy of "the people Israel."

In the context of the new political doctrine of self-determination, the alleged Napoleon letter places great emphasis on Israelite peoplehood. The word "Volksexistenz" (existence as a People) notably appears twice. In the first instance, it is stressed that: "Tyranny and lust for conquest have been able to deprive the Israelites of their hereditary lands but unable to take away, not even in millennia, their name and their existence as a People (Volksexistenz)."

In the second place, the letter concludes with an exhortation to Israelites to seize the opportunity to reclaim their "political existence as a People among the nations" (politische Volksexistenz der Nationen). As already seen above, "restorer of their political existence" is the almost identical language Mallet du Pan (May 1799) uses to refer to Napoleon. More to the point, "resume our rank among the nations" is the strikingly similar phrase in Lettre d'un Juif, which is perhaps from Napoleon's pen. Whether or not that is so, such expressions came easily to Napoleon. For example, see his proclamation to the Hungarians (May 15, 1809): "You have national customs; a national language: You take pride in an illustrious and ancient origin. Therefore, take up again your existence as a nation!"

This reference to Volksexistenz has been discussed by some scholars with insufficient awareness of the stark modernity of the 1796-9 revolutionary rhetoric surrounding peoplehood and the political right to self-determination. Thus, a few historians mistakenly imagine that, in the alleged Napoleon letter, they can spot an anachronism that seeks to import later Zionist concepts into 1799. This "anachronism" theory is highly improbable for at least four reasons:
  1. The letter is unlikely to have been written by a Jew. (Jewish authorship is further discounted in later paragraphs on the Jews of Prague.)
  2. Almost all the scholars who have carefully studied its contents believe that, whether a forgery or not, the letter really dates from 1799.
  3. The "anachronism" claim irrationally focuses on what Theodor Herzl was saying in the late 1890s, while illogically ignoring what revolutionaries were already saying one hundred years earlier (1796-9).
  4. The 18th-century revolutionary precepts about peoplehood and self-determination are both fundamental and universal, as already discussed in the preface.
Thus, the question remains: Were Jews specifically excluded from the benefits of the pertinent revolutionary doctrines, as then understood? "Yes, excluded!" quickly replies that persistent bias against Jews which even today still encourages dogmatic adherence to an unproven historical presumption -- namely, the stubborn belief that Jews could not possibly have then been seen as qualified for peoplehood and self-determination in their ancestral homeland. But, that highly discriminatory premise is roundly refuted by the rich record of revolutionary theory and practice from 1796 to 1799, as detailed both above and below.

Acre: a unique strategic moment

If we see this letter as genuine, it could perhaps have been written after the great April 16th battle in Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) in the vicinity of Mount Tabor. There, Napoleon decisively defeated a regional Ottoman army led by the Pasha of Damascus. Judged from the trivial nature of some of his contemporary correspondence, Napoleon then had lots of time on his hands. Most probably, he used some hours in further efforts to spark rebellion among the disparate elements of the population of the Ottoman Empire.

The April 20th letter refers to his army soon leaving Jerusalem for Damascus. For sure, at that time, Napoleon urgently wanted to get all "Syria" to revolt against the Ottomans, as confirmed by his then private secretary Louis de Bourrienne. The latter claims that he recorded verbatim Napoleon's conception of what was to follow the expected (but ultimately unrealized) French conquest of Ottoman Acre. There, Napoleon counted on capturing a great pile of cash and a very large store of arms and ammunition (May 8, 1799):
I march on Damascus and Aleppo. While advancing into the country, I grow my army with all the discontented; I announce to the people the abolition of servitude and of the tyrannical governments of the pashas.
Nor was the pivotal importance of Acre lost on the British. This is clear from a letter to Rear Admiral Nelson from Commodore Sir Sydney Smith, aboard HMS Tigre off Acre (May 9, 1799):
Indeed, the town is not, nor ever has been defensible according to the rules of art. But, according to every other rule, it must and shall be defended. Not that it is in itself worth defending, but we feel that it is by this breach that Buonaparte means to march to further conquests. It is on the issue of this conflict that depends the opinion of the multitude of spectators on the surrounding hills, who wait only to see how it ends, to join the victors. And, with such a reinforcement for the execution of his known projects, Constantinople, and even Vienna, must feel the shock.
The same view was shared by the editor of the Paris newspaper Journal des Hommes Libres (June 25, 1799):
If, however, Bonaparte has really defeated Dgezar pacha [Ahmet Cezzar Pasha, Ottoman commander at Acre], there is no longer anything that Bonaparte cannot do; and, at the very moment that I am writing, he could well be before the walls of Constantinople.
Writing to Real Admiral Duckworth, Nelson twice thanked God for Napoleon's defeat at Acre. Referring to the earlier possibility that Napoleon might have taken Acre, Nelson observed (July 23, 1799): "They are all frightened at Constantinople." Similar was the retrospective assessment in an August 24th Constantinople report published in the London Sunday newspaper, Bell's Weekly Messenger (October 6, 1799):
The fortress of St. Jean d'Acre is the bulwark of the Porte and provisions and ammunition are continually sent thither. Had Buonaparte succeeded in taking that fortress, Constantinople would have been in danger.

Returning home via Constantinople

Initially, Napoleon's grand strategy had been to make a deal with Turkey that would allow France to keep Egypt as a base for attacking British India. But, French dreams of the Indies were cancelled by Nelson's victory in Aboukir Bay. This naval triumph not only reaffirmed Britain's global maritime might, but also ensured that the Turks would fight France.

This brand-new constellation naturally invited Napoleon to ponder possibilities afresh. Thus, in early 1799, he seriously harbored hopes of perhaps toppling the Ottoman Empire via a combination of war and national revolutions. For example, close to Napoleon was the army's Surgeon-in-Chief Jean Dominique Larrey. In Cairo, Larrey (January 27, 1799) confided in a letter to his brother, as reported in Le Moniteur (May 19, 1799):
We are about to leave for [Ottoman] Syria. Now follow our progress as I told you to do in the past, with a map in one hand and a copy of Volney in the other. Without doubt we will head towards the Euphrates, made so famous by the [ancient] armies that covered its banks. Our departure is set for the 12th of the current month [January 31, 1799]. And, we do not despair of seeing Constantinople.
Apart from anything else, such an astonishing feat would enable Napoleon's Army of the East to return to European battlefields, overland via Anatolia and the Balkans. Utter disappointment came only on May 16th, when he reached the decision that he had to abandon the siege of Ottoman Acre (May 21, 1799). His surprising failure to take that fortified port always seemed to him a sad turning point in world history. He still keenly felt so some twenty years later.

"To march toward Constantinople to meet the enemy that threatens you" (marcher vers Constantinople audevant de l'ennemi qui vous menace). This was the most promising of three options said to be open to the Army of the East. The other two were: (i) staying on the defensive in Egypt; and (ii) attacking the British in India. A preference for conquering Constantinople was implied by Jean-Baptiste Treilhard, President of France's Executive Directory. He saw the Ottoman Empire as near collapse, and predicted early partition of Turkey in Europe, by Russia and Austria.

Aware of both Nelson's victory, and of Turkey's declaration of war against France, Treilhard sent (November 4, 1798) Napoleon a letter which had been drafted by Talleyrand. "From Bonaparte's genius and fortune, we expect nothing but vast combinations and illustrious results." This Paris dispatch did not reach Napoleon until March 25, 1799, when he was already besieging Acre in an effort to break Ottoman power in the Mideast.

Volney: revolutionizing all the Ottoman Peoples

The amazing possibility of overland return to Europe via revolutionary victory was also evident to Mideast expert Constantin Volney, who was back in Paris after three years in the United States. With full understanding of the deep meaning of Nelson's great naval triumph in the Mediterranean, Volney published an influential, speculative essay, entitled Sur Bonaparte (Concerning Bonaparte). This appeared in instalments in Le Moniteur on the 16th and 21st of November 1798. Verbatim, the same piece was reprinted as one article in La Clef du Cabinet des Souverains on November 24, 1798. Volney astutely portrayed the possibility that Napoleon might dramatically free all the subject Peoples of the Turkish Empire, while fighting his way back home via Ottoman Syria and Asia Minor. For example, Volney opined (November 24, 1798):
The theater of war must be brought back towards Europe. And, since the imprudent Turk has himself raised the banner of war, it is Constantinople that I would want to seize from his hands.
Fully consistent with Volney's suggestion that Napoleon revolutionize all the Peoples of the Turkish Empire and return to Europe via Asia Minor is an April 28, 1799 report, alleged to be from Habsburg Semlin near Ottoman Belgrade. This is published in Le Moniteur (May 27, 1799):
Letters from Macedonia have arrived in Belgrade. They report lots of activity up and down the coasts of the Morea, where rumor (le bruit) has spread that General Bonaparte would soon arrive from Asia. His powerful army composed of Frenchmen, Copts, Greeks, Jews, Armenians, etc., is to overturn the sultan's throne. This news has so greatly excited the minds of the Greeks that a serious insurrection is expected in this country.
What did Napoleon himself think about Volney's revolutionary and strategic analysis? The answer is fairly clear. After Napoleon's June 1799 retreat from Ottoman Syria back to Cairo, the full text of Volney's essay is reverentially reprinted in Napoleon's own propaganda organ, Le Courrier de l'Égypte, on the 21st and 30th of July 1799.

Moreover, according to aide de camp Philippe-Paul, Count de Ségur, Napoleon himself returned to a discussion of this lost opportunity, six years later, at supper on the eve of the battle of Austerlitz (December 1, 1805):
If I had captured Acre, I would have put on the turban; and made my army wear wide Turkish pants; I would have spared them exposure to danger, except if absolutely necessary; I would have made them my sacred battalion, my Immortals! I would have finished the war against the Turks using Arabs, Greeks and Armenians. Instead of a battle here in Moravia, I would win a battle on the Issus River; I would become the Emperor of the East, and would return to Paris via Constantinople!  
By December 1805, Napoleon evidently had some reasons to excise Jews, Druze, and Maronites from his recollection of this entirely serious scenario. Nonetheless, his 1805 testimony conclusively shows that the April 20th letter, containing a revolutionary appeal to "Israelites" everywhere, must be understood in the broader context of a unique geo-strategic moment.

At that point in time, Napoleon and shrewd contemporaries like Talleyrand, Treilhard and Volney all perceived a narrow window of opportunity, offering Napoleon the rare chance to spread the revolution of the Peoples throughout the Ottoman Near and Mideast. This pressing political motive equally explains an authentic letter from Napoleon in the Mideast and/or a clever forgery, perhaps made in Europe by French secret agents, in direct response to the outbreak of war with Austria (March 12, 1799).

Rabbi Aaron's covering letter 

The 1799 official translation also includes a covering letter which the translator's common heading bureaucratically describes as written by a certain "Rabbi Aron [Aaron] in Jerusalem." In origin and authorship this covering letter is perhaps closely related to the Napoleon letter, or maybe entirely independent.

It is possible that this covering letter was tacked on to the principal letter at a different time and place, maybe after the alleged Napoleon letter had already left Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬). A hint of possible independence is that the two letters stipulate an overlapping, but not identical audience. To the point, the Napoleon letter is for "Israelites" everywhere, with the words "legitimate heirs of Palestine." By contrast, the Rabbi's covering letter explicitly addresses diaspora Jews as "the children of captivity in the lands to the morning and the evening, to midday and midnight" (die Kinder der Gefangenschaft in den Ländern gegen Morgen und Abend, gegen Mittag und Mitternacht).

One influential historian rashly imagines that such peculiar geographic expressions (respectively for East, West, South and North) signal that the Rabbi's covering letter is not to be taken seriously. But, the exact contrary is true, because 18th-century German meteorology indeed includes the compass direction of winds, named according to these particular times of day.

Rabbi Aaron directly addresses recipients as "Brothers" (Brüder). This vocative smacks of the Christian Bible. For example, in Acts and Romans, Christians are addressed repeatedly as "brothers" and "sisters." No such example can be found in the Jewish Bible, where: firstly, there are no vocative references to "brothers"; and, secondly, "brothers" is mostly used indicatively to literally denote true blood kin. By contrast, references to "brothers" in the Christian Bible are mostly figurative, as conveying the notion of "brothers in Christ." Rabbi Aaron's call to "brothers" is also strikingly similar to the dramatic vocative "Oh my brothers!" twice in the text of "Letter from a Jew to his Brothers," which is perhaps from Napoleon's own pen.

The source language is unspecified, but can easily be presumed to be Hebrew, inter alia, because the official German translation likely comes from Karl Fischer, in his normal capacity as, per-page paid, Imperial and Royal Censor, Reviser and Translator in Hebrew. His job regularly includes translating letters and other Hebrew documents into German, including for the Polizeihofstelle in Vienna.

Both of the 1799 originals are probably in Hebrew, because there is clearly no practical need for the Polizeihofstelle to send the Hebrew Censor documents in other languages. Moreover, the translator bureaucratically joins the two letters together under the common heading "translated from the original 1799." Were there more than one source language, that peculiarity would most likely be stipulated, in the brief bureaucratic opening.

Just as in the Napoleon letter, so here too, the words "Jews" and "Jewish" do not appear in the body of the letter itself. Claiming to originate from Jerusalem, the rabbinic letter is dated, according to the Hebrew calendar, Nisan 5559. In 1799, this Hebrew month begins on April 6th and ends at sunset on May 5th. This companion letter calls for rebuilding both the city walls and a Temple in Jerusalem; and significantly summons to arms all the able-bodied men of Israel, no matter where they live. The Revolutionary French Republic is twice saluted as la grande nation (die große Nation). Pointing to Gideon in the Book of Judges, the covering letter ends with a shout: "Hier Schwerdt des Herrn und Buonaparte!" (Here the sword of the Lord and Buonaparte!)

Aaron, the brother of Moses?

Who was this "Aaron, Levi's son, from the tribe of Levi" (Aaron, Levis Sohn, aus dem Stamm Levi)?  Nobody knows. But, he must have been something of an immortal time traveler, because he describes himself as "after countless generations again here in the Holy City first rabbi and priest."

And, perhaps there never was such a real historical person in the 18th century. To the point, Judaism has famously had no "priests" since the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE). Following this logic, Aaron's puzzling self-description as "first rabbi and priest" must therefore be understood as prolepsis. Via this rhetorical device, the writer flashes forward into the future. His purpose is to dramatize the promise that (with the imminent rebuilding of the Temple) a direct descendant of the biblical Aaron the Levite will once again function as high priest. Thus, "Aaron, Levi's son" is probably intended to be a generic reference to any canonically-qualified "Kohen."

This no-name hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that Napoleon had already (September 7, 1798) appointed Cairo Rabbis Sabbato Adda and Telebi di Figura as "high priests of the Jewish People" (grands prêtres de la nation juive). But, Adda and Figura were far away in French-occupied Egypt. So, who else would be willing to lend rabbinical authority to the covering letter? Signing such a seditious text with an actual person's name would have been exceedingly perilous, whether in the Ottoman Empire or the several European countries of the counter-revolution. Thus, in the Holy Land, as in so many of the other places where Jews lived, no important rabbi would have dared to sign such an inflammatory document.

In 1799, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem was Haim ben Asher Yom Tov Algazy. Like the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Rabbi Algazy then prudently advertised his opposition to the French revolutionaries and publicly demonstrated loyalty to the Sultan. Algazy clung all the tighter to the Ottomans, because -- as so many times in the past -- the various other elements of the local population were trying to incriminate Jews, in this instance by charging complicity with Napoleon. To the point, a Jew wrote a Hebrew letter from Jerusalem (summer 1799):
Since Egypt and the neighboring provinces have been occupied [July-August 1798], a great misfortune has befallen us through the wickedness of the non-Jewish population. They have slandered us by saying that, among the [French] army, twelve thousand military volunteers are serving who are children of Israel. This has done us harm beyond measure. We are being attacked daily, and they threaten to kill us and to destroy all Jews, the inhabitants of Zion, God forbid!

Since 1944, there has been conjecture that the mysterious Rabbi Aaron might perhaps be the Moshe Aharon Halevi, who in 1799 is president of one of Jerusalem's four rabbincal courts. As such, he is no "priest," but entitled to be called "first rabbi," only when presiding. However, to exert his due influence, such an eminent rabbi would probably use his full name for the covering letter. Even more peculiar is omission of his first name, because "Moshe" famously symbolizes leadership of the Jewish People. In 1799, Moshe Aharon Halevi temporarily returns to his hometown Salonika to tend to the printing of a book of his writings. But, by summer 1799, he reappears in Jerusalem, where he cosigns, with some other local rabbis, a letter to Italian Jews that will be discussed below. This means that he felt safe enough to return to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) even after Napoleon's early June 1799 withdrawal to Egypt. Therefore, Moshe Aharon Halevi is unlikely to have been the radical rabbi of the covering letter.

"Children of whores"

Is Aaron writing as an 18th-century Orthodox Rabbi or does he purposely hark back to ancient Judaism as he imagines it to be in the period before the destruction of the Second Temple? This question is pertinent in trying to understand some of his vigorous language:
Now is the time to demonstrate that we are not the children of whores (Kinder der Huren) and adulteresses but true descendants of Israel and that we desire the inheritance of the People of God and the beautiful divine service of the Lord.
Here, Rabbi Aaron unintentionally reveals quite a lot. Namely, in volunteering to raise the topic of illegitimacy, he chooses to highlight the particular notion of the “child of a whore.” This is a very specific idea, probably based on the words "ek pornis" (ἐκ πόρνης) that the Septuagint employs to translate into Greek the Hebrew word mamzer (ממזר), as it appears in the Jewish Bible. And, if not relying on the Septuagint, Aaron is likely instructed by the phrase "born of a prostitute" (de scorto natus) that the Catholic Old Testament uses for the Latin-language translation of the Hebrew word mamzer (ממזר), as it appears in the Jewish Bible.

This "children of whores" detail is important because, by the 18th century, the meaning, scope and consequences of mamzerut (ממזרות) in rabbinical Judaism are notably narrower than what flows from the Christian understanding of illegitimacy. To the point, any contemporary Orthodox Rabbi could have told Aaron that, unlike Christian bastardy, 18th-century Jewish Law: firstly, does not see the "children of whores" as necessarily mamzerim; and secondly, does not prevent the mamzer from inheriting the legacy of his parents.

Thus, we can suppose that the covering letter's author is ignorant of (or purposely rejects) the Orthodox, rabbinical Judaism of the Talmud. And, this guess dovetails with one experienced historian’s observation that Rabbi Aaron does not write in the usual Talmudic style. These and earlier considerations prompt us to suspect that the text is perhaps written by a Christian rather than by an Orthodox Jew. Maybe the sole Jewish connection to the letter is that it is translated into Hebrew by a Jew? Or could it be that our Rabbi Aaron is not an Orthodox Jew, but rather a schismatic Frankist, rejecting the authority of the Talmud?

Sabbateans, Frankists and Kabbalists

Studying the covering letter, commentators are struck by its flowery melitzah epistolary style; a particular choice of biblical quotes; and special significance in the expressions "Jehova Zebaoth" (יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת Lord of Hosts) and "der Samen Jakobs" (the seed of Jacob). Such proof leads some to suppose that the original of the covering letter is written in Hebrew by a Jew who is one or more of Sabbatean, Frankist and Kabbalist.

Sabbateans were Jewish followers of the 17th-century false Messiah Sabbatai Zevi (d. 1676), just as Frankists followed the 18th-century false Messiah Jacob Frank (d. 1791). Kabbalism is a significant current of Jewish belief, mysticism and philosophy that informed Sabbateans, Frankists and some other important expressions of Judaism. Frankists notably rejected rabbinical Judaism as embodied in the Talmud.

If the covering letter truly suggests one or more of Sabbateanism, Frankism and Kabbalism, that logically would be no evidence against a companion hypothesis that the possible Jewish writer (or translator) was perhaps simultaneously a revolutionary agent, whether working beside Napoleon in the Mideast; or for the Directory, in Paris or elsewhere in Europe.

It has been said that Sabbateans, Frankists and Kabbalists were strongly attracted to Napoleon, because they thought him to be one or more of anti-Catholic, victorious, and radical. Moreover, we shall later see that the Directory, at that time, already knew that many Jews believed Napoleon to be the Messiah. The same assessment of such Jewish belief was also made by experienced Austrian diplomat, Johann Philipp, Count von Stadion-Warthausen. Later as Foreign Minister (1805-1809), Stadion remained obsessed with the idea that "in all of Europe the Jews consider the Emperor Napoleon as their Messiah and proclaim it openly."

If so, we cannot just leave it at that, as some have done, but rather must also look at the other side of the coin. Namely, we must examine Napoleon, as he was during the turbulent decade before his coup d'état in November 1799. In most of those ten years, he was certainly a true revolutionary, and a fierce opponent of both Royalists and the Roman-Catholic Church. He was a former Jacobin, close to Maximilien Robespierre's brother Augustin. In both 1795 and 1797, he played a principal part in frustrating actual, imminent, or feared right-wing coups against the Directory.

Starting from 1796, he exported the French Revolution to Roman-Catholic Italy. In February 1797, he forced the papacy to pay heavy contributions in cash, cede part of its territories, surrender several hundred ancient manuscripts, and deliver famous works of art. By authority of the Directory, Napoleon from Paris issued the orders (January 11, 1798) for the military occupation of Rome and indigenous creation of a revolutionary Roman Republic. This new sister Republic would replace the pontifical government of Pius VI who was derisively called "Citizen Pope" by the troops of the French Revolutionary Army. Napoleon wanted Pius VI to be scared enough to flee Rome. Moreover, during his Mideast campaign, Napoleon's proclamations and letters to Muslims repeatedly boasted that the French had destroyed both the papal throne and the reviled Roman-Catholic Order of the Knights of Saint John.

Like other revolutionaries, Napoleon persistently denied the divinity of Christ. Consider the theology atop the Arabic version of his proclamation to the people of Egypt (July 1798): "In the name of God, the clement and the merciful. There is no divinity save Allah; He has no son and shares His power with no one." The aforementioned proleptic proclamation "to the inhabitants of Syria" also begins with a similar denial of Christ's divinity.

Napoleon went even further by claiming that, by virtue of the Revolution, the French themselves had become Muslims. For example, the Arabic version of the proclamation to the people of Egypt says (July 1798): "Kadis, sheiks, imams, tchorbadjis! Tell the people that the French are also true Muslims." There is this same astonishing Muslim assertion in Napoleon's letter to Ahmet Cezzar Pasha, based in Acre (September 12, 1798):
We are no longer like the infidels of those barbarous times who were coming to fight your faith. [To the contrary, now] we recognize it to be sublime, we adhere to it, and the moment has arrived when all regenerated Frenchmen will also become your believers.

Napoleon was irreverent, skeptical, opportunistic and inventive. These qualities were expertly assessed by the Austrian Ambassador in Paris, Klemens von Metternich. In September and October 1806, he reported to Vienna his shrewd observation that Napoleon was quick to spot potential political advantage in Jewish messianic belief. In that same vein, in Egypt in his proclamations to Muslims, Napoleon had purposely portrayed himself in the light of the closely-related Islamic concept of the Mahdi (Arabic: مهدي), preordained by God to conquer that country. Thus, it is certain that, from time to time, Napoleon was eager to create the impression that he might be the Muslim or the Jewish Messiah.

Napoleon was fully in step with the pointedly anti-Catholic championing of the Jews that marked revolutionaries in the years from 1796 to 1799. In recruiting Jews to serve as spies, agents and emissaries, Napoleon would likely have specially sought out Sabbatean, Frankist and Kabbalist sectaries. Such Jews were then said to be particularly numerous in Italy, where Jewish attachment to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) remained especially strong, even in the 1790s. Who better than they to revolutionize the Jewish People for Napoleon's effort to destroy the Ottoman Empire? Sabbateans, Frankists and Kabbalists will reappear in later discussion of the Jews of Prague.

Proclamation or letter?

The official 1799 German translation nowhere contains the word "proclamation." To the point, Rabbi Aaron himself describes the companion Napoleon piece as a "letter" or Zuschrift. This is also the common label that the translator, likely Karl Fischer, bureaucratically applies to both items.

As a literary genre, the letter's popularity and cultural importance rapidly rose with the 18th-century proliferation and improvement of postal services. Napoleon wrote around 33,000 letters, including those which were simultaneously political pamphlets, like the 1791 Lettre de M. Buonaparte à Matteo Buttafuoco, député de la Corse à l'Assemblée nationale (Letter of Mr. Buonaparte to Matteo Buttafuoco, Deputy of Corsica in the National Assembly). Letters also have a privileged place in Napoleon's 1795 novella, entitled Clisson et Eugénie.

As a literary genre, "proclamation" intrinsically has a public character. By contrast, "letter" preserves the possibility of a greater or lesser degree of confidentiality. Even so, after the French retreat, local Muslims launched pogroms, including the execution of two Jewish students. Moreover, the Jews of Jerusalem and Tiberias were falsely accused of collaboration with the enemy, as an Ottoman pretext for extorting huge bribes.

In summer 1799, Moshe Aharon Halevi and other Jerusalem Rabbis prepared a Hebrew letter for dispatch to Jewish communities in Italy. Therein, they described the negative effects of Napoleon's campaign on the Jews of Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬):
Since the conquest of Egypt, we are having problems with the local populations, which accuse us of having furnished twelve thousand soldiers to Bonaparte. This charge has caused us much trouble, starting from the summer of 1798 to this present summer. Our Jews materially and morally suffered losses from the fighting at Jaffa and Acre. Now, in addition, they have had to sell all their jewels and luxury items in order to raise money to appease the anger of their neighbors.
All this underlines that Mideast Jews were a vulnerable aboriginal minority. Evidently, considerable discretion was needed for conducting relations with them. After his extensive Islamic experience in Egypt (1798), Napoleon perhaps grasped that a public announcement favoring Jews would enrage both Muslims and Mideast Christians, and endanger Jews throughout the Ottoman Empire. Thus, in 1799, he might have preferred to secretly send a series of confidential letters rather than openly publishing proclamations to the Jews.

The "proclamation" in the European press

The world seems to have known little or nothing about Napoleon's appeal to the "Israelites" in the letter of April 20, 1799. But most certainly way too soon to have then originated from distant Ottoman Syria came repeated, May 1799, European tidings about an apparently earlier, undated, and likely unrelated, Napoleon "proclamation to the Jews."

To be sure, it was then impossible for an account of an April 20th Napoleon letter in Ottoman Syria to reach European cities quickly enough to appear in their newspapers before June of that same year. For example, consider the speedy reporting about the first French assault (March 28, 1799) on Acre, where fast British warships were exceptionally present. This Acre topic featured in an April 19th Constantinople report, first published in the Wiener Zeitung on May 7th, and in Mannheim's Journal Politique de l'Europe on May 19th. Inclusive of dates of occurrence and European printing, it took no fewer than 41 days for this Acre story to hit the streets of Vienna, and a total of 53 days for Mannheim. About 51 days were needed for London to print similar Acre news, as in the Lloyd's Evening-Post (May 17, 1799).

From around May 13th until the 22nd, Napoleon's proclamation, inviting Jews to return to Jerusalem, features in at least seventeen newspapers in Germany, England and France. At the end of May, the same story appears in the London Lady's Magazine and La Décade philosophique (May 29, 1799)The slow speed of contemporary travel dictates that these European articles cannot possibly reflect reports of Holy Land events occurring after March 1799. Thus, there has been informed speculation that Napoleon perhaps wrote such a document, some time in the week after his conquest of Jaffa (March 7, 1799). If then Napoleon indeed wrote something specifically for Jews, the office copy kept for the record was probably purposely destroyed in the 19th century, exactly as described in the preface.

It is also possible that some or all of the May 1799 articles in the European press were triggered, not by news of a 1799 document written by Napoleon in the Holy Land, but rather by one or more of his earlier invitations to the Jews. For example, there could conceivably have been, in early April 1799, deferred disclosure in Constantinople of information about the revolutionary beyanname (بياننامه) that, according to Cevdet Pasha, the Turks had first heard about in the period before the Sultan's declaration of war against France (September 10, 1798).

With regard to the stipulated source for the May 1799 European articles telling the proclamation story, most of the contemporary newspapers refer to an April 1799 report, whether dated the 10th, 12th, 17th or 22nd. Each one of these reports is specifically described as from Constantinople. This April 1799 news from Turkey seems to have been initially published, circa Monday, May 13th, most likely in the French-language Gazette de Hambourg, a city that was neutral during the War of the Second Coalition. If so, verification can only be indirect, because the spring 1799 numbers of the Gazette de Hambourg are extremely rare or no longer exist. I have been unable to find them.

But, let us turn our attention to the press of Berlin, the capital of another neutral power, Prussia. An alleged April 22nd Constantinople report features as the very last foreign-news item on page five of the Vossische Zeitung, Number 58 (May 14, 1799):
Konstantinopel, den 22. April. Buonaparte hat, wie es heißt, eine Proklamation an die Juden in mehreren Afrikanischen und Asiatischen Gegenden erlassen, um das Reich von Jerusalem wieder herzustellen. Auch soll er eine beträchtliche Anzahl Juden bewaffnet, in Bataillons formirt haben, und jetzt Aleppo bedrohen. Die Einwohner in der Gegend von Damascus sollen gegen die Pforte in Insurrektion zu seyn. -- Mit der Großvezier sollen auch viele Janitscharen nach Syrien abgehen.  Der Großherr hatte erst selbst nach Syrien abgehen wollen, wogegen aber die nachdrücklichstens Vorstellungen gemacht wurden. Unter den Französ. Truppen in Aegypten sollen fortdauernd ansteckende Krankheiten herrschen. Man erwartet hier ehestens aus der Krimm eine zweite nach dem Mittelländischen Meere bestimmte Russische Flotte.  --  Der Bruder des hiesigen Französischen Schiffbaumeisters, Le Brun, der sich sehr demokratisch zeigte, ist aus dem Türkischen Dienste entlassen worden. Für den Schiffbaumeister selbst besorgt man noch ein schlimmeres Schicksal. 
[Constantinople, April 22nd. Buonaparte has reportedly issued a proclamation to the Jews in several African and Asian places, to rebuild the Empire of Jerusalem. He is also said to have armed a considerable number of Jews, formed them into battalions, and to be now threatening Aleppo. The inhabitants in the area of Damascus are said to be in rebellion against the Sublime Porte. -- Many janissaries are expected to go to Syria with the Grand Vizier. The Sultan at first wanted to go to Syria himself, but the most emphatic representations were made against this idea. Persistently contagious diseases are said to prevail among the French troops in Egypt. Expected here any time now, from the Crimea, is a second Russian fleet bound for the Mediterranean Sea. -- The brother of the local French shipwright, Le Brun, who showed himself to be very democratic, has been dismissed from the Turkish service. For the shipwright himself, an even worse fate is feared.]

Berlin, Vossische Zeitung, Number 58,
Tuesday, May 14, 1799, page 5.

Only 23 days for Constantinople news to get printed in Berlin? The distance was 1,364 miles, over mostly bad roads. Given the slow pace of 18th-century travel, is it likely that a Constantinople report sent out on April 22nd could arrive in Berlin soon enough for the May 14th edition? Physically possible, but for those days impressively fast transmission. Thus, the question arises: Is the initial digit in the April 22nd date perhaps a typographical or similar error? If so, the true Berlin source could perhaps be: an April 12th letter directly from Constantinople; or even a published report about an April 12th letter, for example, drawn from the Gazette de Hambourg, if previously printed. Such a postulated prior publication in Hamburg could conceivably have reached Berlin by stagecoach within 48 hours.

The phrase "several African and Asian places" in the German-language text of the Vossische Zeitung can conceivably be understood as referring either to the sites of issuance of the Napoleon proclamation or to the places of residence of the recipient Jews. But, no matter which translation option is chosen, those "places" certainly refer to the territory of the Ottoman Empire. Repeated references to the Jews of Africa and Asia will be further discussed below.

The hypothesis that the Vossische Zeitung's story about the Napoleon proclamation to the Jews might have originated from an issuance, perhaps made before 1799, is supported by careful analysis of the background of each one of the seven other news items in the alleged April 22nd Constantinople report. External evidence suggests that, of the seven companion topics, no fewer than five describe events that can be shown to have occurred, in whole or in part, before 1799:
  • The tale that Napoleon had "armed a considerable number of Jews" was already, in the summer of 1798, a persistent rumor in Ottoman Syria, as specifically affirmed by the aforementioned two Hebrew letters from Jerusalem.
  • Dovetailing with 1798 events was news that inhabitants of Damascus region were in revolt against the Sublime Porte.
  • Epidemics among French soldiers in Alexandria, Damietta and Mansoura began in December 1798.
  • As early as October 24, 1798, the Wiener Zeitung announced that a second Russian fleet would be coming from the Crimea to the Mediterranean.
  • Long gone were fears for the fate of the Le Brun brothers in Constantinople, because those two French shipwrights were, by January 1, 1799, safe in Saint Petersburg, where they soon agreed to serve the Imperial Russian Navy.
Thus, there is no reason to reject the possibility that the Vossische Zeitung story about the proclamation to the Jews perhaps reflects a document issued by Napoleon before 1799, and maybe even in the period before the Sultan's declaration of war against France (September 10, 1798), exactly as presented in the official Ottoman history by Ahmet Cevdet Pasha.

London, The True Briton, Number 1997, 
Friday, May 17, 1799.

Too soon to be copied from the Vossische Zeitung, but most likely derived from prior publication in the Gazette de Hambourg, is the same story in London's The True Briton, Friday, May 17th. This alleges an April 12th Constantinople report, news of which had arrived late on Thursday evening, in the mails from Hamburg. That same Friday, London articles identical to the one in The True Briton, appear verbatim in The Star and the Lloyd's Evening-Post (May 17, 1799):
Buonaparte, it is said, has published a Proclamation to the Jews dispersed in Africa and Asia, inviting them to restore the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He has armed a great number of Jews, and formed them into Battalions; and now threatens Aleppo. The Pacha of that district has received from the Porte 220,000 piasters for extraordinary expenses. The Inhabitants in the vicinity of Damascus are in Insurrection against the Porte. A second Russian fleet is soon expected here from the Crimea, destined for the Mediterranean. The Grand Signior has declared his intention of leading the Army in Syria; but strong remonstrances have been made against this measure. An epidemic sickness still prevails among the French troops in Egypt.

Also relying on news from "the Hamburgh Mail" are two London articles that allege as source an April 10th Constantinople report, wherein Napoleon's proclamation is limited to "the Jews in Africa." This is an identical text which appears verbatim in both The Times (May 17, 1799) and the Evening Mail (May 15-17, 1799):
Constantinople, April 10. --- Buonaparte, it is said, has published a Proclamation to the Jews in Africa, inviting them to restore the kingdom of Jerusalem. He has armed a great number of Jews, and formed them into battalions; and now threatens Aleppo. The Pacha of that district has received from the Porte 220,000 piastres for extraordinary expenses. The inhabitants in the vicinity of Damascus are in insurrection against the Porte. A second Russian fleet is soon expected here from the Crimea, destined for the Mediterranean. The Grand Signior has declared his intention of heading himself the army in Syria; but strong remonstrances have been made against this measure. An epidemic sickness still prevails among the French troops in Egypt.
Virtually the same text as the foregoing appears once again in London in The Selector or Say's Sunday Reporter (Sunday, May 19, 1799). But, The Selector says this news is "From the Hamburgh Mails"; the source is the April 12th Constantinople report; and "the Jews dispersed in Africa and Asia" are named as the recipients of the proclamation published by "Buonaparte."

 London, Evening Mail, Postscript,
Friday Afternoon, May 17th, page 4,
Wednesday, May 15 to Friday, May 17, 1799.

Based on a number of the Gazette de Hambourg that had reached the "Banks of the Main" river on May 16th, the Journal de Francfort ran the proclamation story as a direct quotation (May 17, 1799):
La gazette de Hambourg rapporte une lettre de Constantinople du 12 avril, où il est dit: "Buonaparte a adressé une proclamation aux juifs de l'Afrique & de l'Asie, dans laquelle il annonce le projet de rétablir le royaume de Jérusalem, & les invite à y concourir. Ce général a déjà armé, dit-on, un nombre considérable de juifs, & les a organisés en bataillons. L'on attend incessamment ici (à Constantinople) de la Crimée, une seconde flotte Russe, destinée pour la Méditerranée."
[The gazette of Hambourg reports from Constantinople a letter of April 12th, wherein it is said: "Buonaparte has addressed a proclamation to the Jews of Africa and Asia, in which he announces the plan to reestablish the kingdom of Jerusalem, and invites them to rush there together. This general has already armed a considerable number of Jews, and has organized them into battalions. Here (in Constantinople) we await any time now the arrival of a second Russian fleet, bound for the Mediterranean."]

Frankfurt am Main, Journal de Francfort, Number 137,
Friday, May 17, 1799, page 4.

In the quotation printed in Frankfurt, the issuance of the undated proclamation is presented without any qualification such as "reportedly" or "it was said." Here as elsewhere, "juifs de l'Afrique et de l'Asie" means the Jews of the entire Ottoman Empire, including Turkey in Europe. This Frankfurt text also refers to armed Jewish battalions, but says nothing about Aleppo. Moreover, applicable here too is the earlier analysis of the similar story in Berlin's Vossische Zeitung. Thus, in the Journal de Francfort, the April 12th Constantinople letter (as quoted from the Gazette de Hambourg) might conceivably be referring to a proclamation to the Jews, perhaps made before 1799. If so, nothing in the April 12th Constantinople letter prevents linking this proclamation with the one that Cevdet Pasha assigns to the period before September 10, 1798.

A proclamation to all world Jewry to come to Jerusalem to help "Buonaparte" rebuild the Temple is the striking version in the Augsburgische Ordinari Postzeitung. This also alleges an April 12th report from Constantinople, but reveals nothing about how this remarkable news arrived in Augsburg. Perhaps the story here is less likely to be copied from the Berlin Vossische Zeitung which explicitly claims an April 22nd source. The Postzeitung item was published on May 18, 1799:
Konstantinopel, den 12. April. Buonaparte hat an die Juden in allen Welttheilen eine Proklamation erlassen, durch die er sie einladet, nach Jerusalem zu kommen, weil er ihr Reich und ihren Tempel wieder aufrichten wolle. Er hat auch bereits unter seiner Armee einige Bataillons Juden. -- Der Großsultan war anfänglich entschlossen, die türkische Armee gegen Buonaparte selbst anzuführen. Der Diwan aber war dagegen. Unter den französischen Truppen in Aegypten soll die Pest herrschen. 
[Constantinople, April 12th. Buonaparte has issued to the Jews in all parts of the world a proclamation, whereby he invites them to come to Jerusalem, because he wants to restore their realm and their temple. He already has several Jewish battalions in his army. -- The great sultan had initially decided to himself lead the Turkish army against Buonaparte, but the divan was against it. The plague is said to be ravaging the French troops in Egypt.]

Augsburg, Augsburgische Ordinari Postzeitung, Number 118,
Saturday, May 18, 1799, page 2.

Bell's Weekly Messenger publishes its own "Turkey" news referring to entirely Jewish battalions in the French Army of the East. Highlighted is a proclamation from "Buonaparte" calling upon "the Jews dispersed over Asia and Africa" (the Jews of the Ottoman Empire) to restore "the kingdom of Jerusalem." This account is derived from an April 12th Constantinople report, taken "from the Hamburgh Mails" (May 19, 1799):
Turkey. Constantinople, April 12. --- A proclamation is said to have been published by Buonaparte inviting the Jews dispersed over Asia and Africa, to restore the kingdom of Jerusalem. He has already formed whole battalions of that nation; and now threatens Aleppo. The country about Damascus is in insurrection against the Porte.

London, Bell's Weekly Messenger,
Sunday, May 19, 1799, page 155.

Under "Foreign Intelligence," The Observer of London covers familiar ground with slightly different language that specifically clarifies that it was Napoleon who was preparing to attack Aleppo, not Jewish battalions (May 19, 1799):
Constantinople, April 12. --- Buonaparte is said to have formed some battalions of Jews, the whole of which race in Asia and Africa he has invited to restore the Kingdom of Jerusalem:  The people near Damascus, the account adds, are in insurrection against the Porte, and Buonaparte preparing to attack Aleppo. A second Russian fleet is expected to shortly arrive, on their way to the Mediterranean. An epidemic sickness still prevails amongst the French troops in Egypt.

London, The Observer, Number 386,
Sunday, May 19, 1799, p. 4.

Mannheim's Journal Politique de l'Europe relies on a number of the Journal de Francfort, that arrived in Mannheim on May 18th, to requote verbatim an undated recent number of the Gazette de Hambourg. However, the Journal Politique changes the spelling of Napoleon's family name and adds a Vienna news report about the siege of Acre (May 19, 1799):
La gazette de Hambourg rapporte une lettre de Constantinople du 12 avril, où il est dit: "Bonaparte a adressé une proclamation aux juifs de l'Afrique & de l'Asie, dans laquelle il annonce le projet de rétablir le royaume de Jérusalem, & les invite à y concourir. Ce général a déjà armé, dit-on, un nombre considérable de juifs, & les a organisés en bataillons. L'on attend incessamment ici (à Constantinople) de la Crimée, une seconde flotte Russe, destinée pour la Méditerranée."
-- La gazette de Vienne [Die Wiener Zeitung] du 7 [May 1799] rapporte une lettre de Constantinople du 19 avril, qui dit que l'armée françoise en Syrie a été repousée dans sa première attaque [March 28, 1799] contre St. Jean-d'Acre.
[The gazette of Hambourg reports from Constantinople a letter of April 12th, wherein it is said: "Bonaparte has addressed a proclamation to the Jews of Africa and Asia, in which he announces the plan to reestablish the kingdom of Jerusalem, and invites them to rush there together. This general has already armed a considerable number of Jews, and has organized them into battalions. Here (in Constantinople) we await any time now the arrival of a second Russian fleet, bound for the Mediterranean."
--The gazette of Vienna {Die Wiener Zeitung} of the 7th {May 1799} reports a letter from Constantinople of April 19th, which says that the French army in Syria has been rebuffed in its first attack {March 28, 1799} against Acre.] 

Mannheim, Journal Politique de l'Europe, Number 138,
Sunday, May 19, 1799, page 4.

Taken from the May 7th Wiener Zeitung, the Journal Politique's account of the first French assault on Acre (March 28, 1799) is definitely fresh news from the spring of 1799. By contrast, the proclamation story drawn from the Gazette de Hambourg might perhaps have occurred before 1799.

The same is true of the proclamation tale in the Allgemeine Zeitung of Munich. Moreover, the Munich newspaper item has no dated source, and notably lacks any reference to armed Jewish battalions (May 22, 1799):
Türkei. Nachrichten aus Konstantinopel sprechen von einer Proklamation, welche Bonaparte an die Juden von Afrika und Asien erlassen habe, um ihnen anzukündigen, daß er das Königreich von Jerusalem wiederherzustellen gedenke, und ihren Beistand hiezu erwarte. -- Man erwartete, daß eine zweite, nach dem Mittel-Meer bestimmte, russische Flotte noch im April zu Konstantinopel eintreffen würde.
[Turkey. News reports from Constantinople speak of a proclamation which Bonaparte has issued to the Jews of Africa and Asia in order to inform them that he is thinking about restoring the Kingdom of Jerusalem and expects their assistance therewith. -- A second Russian fleet bound for the Mediterranean Sea was expected to have arrived in Constantinople before the end of April.]

Munich, Allgemeine Zeitung, Number 142,
Wednesday, May 22, 1799, page 606.

Under "Nouvelles" (news), the Journal de Paris offers an account said to be based on April 17th "letters from Constantinople." Here, Bonaparte addresses Jews everywhere, with no reference to Africa and Asia. Among the May 1799 newspaper stories about the proclamation, the item in the Journal de Paris is unique in adding the fake news that Bonaparte has already conquered Jerusalem. Though large numbers of Jews are armed, they are not threatening Aleppo which is not mentioned. Otherwise, Le Moniteur could well be the model for what we find in the Journal de Paris (May 22, 1799):
Égypte. --- Les lettres de Constantinople du 28 germinal, disent: Bonaparte, maître de Gaza & de Jérusalem, a fait publier une proclamation, dans laquelle il invite tous les Juifs à venir se ranger sous ses drapeaux, pour rétablir leur ancienne capitale; il en a déjà armée un grand nombre. Les environs de Damas sont en insurrection contre la Porte. Le grand-seigneur projette d'aller en personne combattre les français en Syrie.
[Egypt. --- Letters from Constantinople of 28 germinal {April 17th} say: Master of Gaza and Jerusalem, Bonaparte has arranged for the publication of a proclamation, in which he invites all the Jews to come line up under his banners, in order to reestablish their ancient capital; he has already armed a great number of them. The Damascus area is in revolt against the Sublime Porte. The Sultan plans to go in person to fight the French in Syria.] 

Paris, Journal de Paris, Number 243
3 prairial, l'an VII de la r
(Wednesday, May 22, 1799), p. 1063.

Le Moniteur, May 22, 1799

The proclamation story is the first item on the front page of Le Moniteur. There, it appears perhaps too soon to have been copied from Frankfurt, London, Augsburg, Mannheim, or Munich. From internal evidence, we can guess that the story in Le Moniteur perhaps comes, not directly from the French-language Gazette de Hambourg, but rather from the German-language text in the May 14th Vossische Zeitung.

Such Paris plagiarism is hardly surprising, because the French government generally lacked much own-source information as to what was really transpiring in the Mideast, just as Napoleon was then getting very little news from Europe. Nonetheless, the article in Le Moniteur is politically significant, because that newspaper was known to regularly publish news, as provided by the Directory. Clearly, the editors would wait for an official green light before rushing to print front-page news about Napoleon, who was of key concern to the Directors.

At least the first paragraph from Le Moniteur (below) also appears, on that same day, verbatim in Le Propagateur. Although late in the publication chain, these two papers join the Journal de Paris in citing as source an alleged 28 germinal (April 17th) report from Constantinople. Despite this claim of an independent source, these three Paris newspapers curiously offer next to nothing new, that is credible. Following is the text from Le Moniteur (May 22, 1799):
Constantinople, le 28 germinal. Bonaparte a fait publier une proclamation dans laquelle il invite tous les juifs de l'Asie et de l'Afrique à venir se ranger sous ses drapeaux pour rétablir l'ancienne Jérusalem. Il en a déjà armé un grand nombre, et leurs bataillons menacent Alep. 
Les habitans des environs de Damas sont en insurrection contre la Porte. Le grand-seigneur doit partir incessament pour la Syrie, afin de commander, en personne, contre Bonaparte. Le grand-visir, à la tête d'un corps considérable de janissaires, doit aussi se mettre en route au commencement de floréal. 
[Constantinople, the 28th of germinal {April 17}. Bonaparte arranged for the publication of a proclamation in which he invites all the Jews of Asia and Africa to come line up under his banners in order to reestablish ancient Jerusalem. He has already armed a great number of them, and their battalions are threatening Aleppo. 
In the Damascus area, the inhabitants are in rebellion against the Sublime Porte. In order to personally command against Bonaparte, the Sultan is expected to leave for Syria any time now. At the head of a considerable body of janissaries, the Grand Vizier too ought to be setting out around the beginning of Florial {April 20}.]

(prominent as first item on the front page)
Paris, Le Moniteur, No. 243, Tridi, 3 prairial an VII
(Wednesday, May 22, 1799).

"All the Jews of Asia and Africa" (tous les juifs de l'Asie et de l'Afrique) means the Jews of the entire Ottoman Empire, including most of the Balkan lands. The pertinent geopolitical perspective is that of the contemporary Habsburg diplomat and statesman Klemens von Metternich, who quipped, "Asia begins at the Landstraße," in Vienna. Only in Bell's Weekly Messenger, The ObserverLe Moniteur and Le Propagateur does the reference to Asia precede Africa.

"L'ancienne Jérusalem" (ancient or old Jerusalem) appears only in the version in Le Moniteur and Le Propagateur. However, "leur ancienne capitale" (their ancient capital) in the Journal de Paris is approximate. Both these expressions are used, perhaps because the editors, as revolutionaries, revere classical antiquity and respect biblical Jews. By contrast, their revolutionary perspective requires disdain for anything smacking of the medieval Catholic Church. Perhaps interpreting from the German text in the Vossische Zeitung, they purposely mistranslate the millenarian phrase "Reich von Jerusalem" ("empire" or "realm" of Jerusalem). This matter gets more attention below.

The versions of the proclamation story in Le Moniteur, Le Propagateur and the Journal de Paris are alone in explicitly including a call to the colors. Namely, only in those three newspapers are Jews clearly summoned to line up in ranks under Napoleon's banner. This specifically martial element is significantly absent from the other May 1799 articles, and also notably missing from Cevdet Pasha's account of a Jewish proclamation, made at some time before September 10, 1798.

Jewish battalions threatening Aleppo?

The account in Le Moniteur contains little that could not be derived (more or less accurately) from the German-language text in Berlin's Vossische Zeitung, which covers more ground. However, the incredible claim that armed Jewish battalions are threatening Aleppo is notably absent from the Journal de Paris, the Frankfurt and Mannheim quotations from the Gazette de Hambourg; and also missing from the Berlin, London, Augsburg, and Munich versions.

In 1797-9, Le Moniteur sometimes likes to highlight revolutionary Jews as soldiers, as in the aforementioned addition of a call to the colors. But, this strange Aleppo story is otherwise to be explained as perhaps mistranslation from the German-language text in the Vossische Zeitung. The latter grammatically states that it is Bonaparte who is threatening Aleppo, not the Jewish battalions. This particular point is confirmed by careful reading of the words and punctuation of the English-language version of the same Aleppo story in The True Briton, The Star, the Lloyd's Evening-Post, The Times, the Evening Mail, The Selector, and Bell's Weekly Messenger.

Furthermore, The Observer (Sunday, May 19, 1799), while discussing Jewish battalions elsewhere, specifically speaks of "Buonaparte preparing to attack Aleppo." Referring to the May 14th item in the Vossische Zeitung, the Allgemeine Zeitung (Thursday, May 23, 1799) unwittingly concurs with The Observer. While saying nothing about Jewish battalions, the Allgemeine Zeitung reads the Berlin account of the April 22nd Constantinople report, as indicating that it is the French who are threatening Aleppo.

What can we learn from the several May 1799 newspapers that (directly or indirectly) rely on a recent number of the Gazette de Hambourg? It is fairly clear that this missing number of the Gazette de Hambourg must offer news about a variety of Mideast events, probably including grammatically separate references to both Jewish battalions and Aleppo. But, this lost number of the Gazette de Hambourg is unlikely to make the startling claim that Jewish battalions are threatening Aleppo. We have already seen that this bizarre news is perhaps invented (accidentally or purposefully) by the editors of Le Moniteur. And, to preserve the Directory's dignity, Le Moniteur perhaps intentionally concocts the reference to a Constantinople report of 28 germinal (April 17, 1799).

"The Jews of Africa and Asia"

Of the seventeen May 1799 newspapers, only the Augsburgische Ordinari Postzeitung and the Journal de Paris report Napoleon's invitation as being to Jews everywhere. By contrast, all the other accounts say the recipients are some variant of the Jews of Africa and Asia. Make no mistake, a false "end of days" story about restoration of the Jews to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) would never have restricted return to the Jews of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the exceptional focus on the Jews of Africa and Asia lends the proclamation story added authenticity, for three important reasons.

Firstly, an invitation limited to the Jews of Africa and Asia is not inconsistent with the key idea of Franco-Ottoman diplomatic talks for Jewish return, as specifically proposed in Lettre d'un Juif (June 8, 1798), perhaps written by Napoleon himself. Throughout most of his time in the Mideast, he remained very interested in reaching a negotiated deal with the Ottomans. Thus, we can understand why calling on Jews to take up arms is absent from all of the May 1799 newspaper accounts, except for Le Moniteur, Le Propagateur and the Journal de Paris, all of which understandably reflect the acute wartime requirements of France's struggle against the countries of the Second Coalition.

Secondly, an appeal restricted to the Jews of the Ottoman Empire hints that the pertinent Napoleon proclamation was issued, probably at a time before he got news that France was officially at war with both Russia and Austria. The Russians finally made their alliance with Turkey on December 23, 1798. France declared war against Austria on March 12, 1799. Unaware of all or some of these key developments, Napoleon likely narrowed his appeal to the Jews of Africa and Asia, partly in order to keep the Treaty of Campo-Formio (October 18, 1797). This was the peace with Austria that he himself had designed and signed. Apart from anything else, his probable motive was to avoid directly antagonizing Russia and Austria, where so many of the world's three million Jews then lived. At that time, the Russian and Austrian governments were worried about the loyalty of their Jewish subjects, whom they feared would be easily seduced by France's revolutionary ideology.

Thirdly, Napoleon limited his invitation to the Jews of Africa and Asia also because, as a great emancipator, he knew perfectly well that, for the Jews of Western Europe, revolutionary doctrine demanded not so much restoration to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) as equal rights of citizenship, and freedom of religion, in the French Republic and its sister republics in Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany.

But these key domestic doctrines of laïcisme and equal citizenship did not necessarily dominate the revolutionary imagination in crafting a vision for the future of millions of Jews elsewhere. To the point, the numerous Jews of Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire were occasionally important objects of revolutionary foreign policy. As such, these foreign Jews were sometimes considered principally within the context of the revolutionary doctrine of the self-determination of Peoples.

Whether in France or Germany, Napoleon's contemporaries were acutely aware that the revolutionary Jewish claim to equal rights of citizenship, in the various European republics and kingdoms, seemed to conflict with famous millennial hopes to restore the biblical Jewish country in the Mideast. But, this was generally a contradiction more in logic than in daily political practice. Then as today, the important notion of the individual Jew as equal citizen of a particular, secular, Western State coexisted (albeit uneasily) with the stubborn idea of restoring the Jewish commonwealth in the aboriginal homeland of the Jewish People.

"The Kingdom of Jerusalem"

This is a curious, even apocalyptic, phrase that merits our attention. We have already seen similar millenarian language (l'empire de Jérusalem) in the 1798 l'Ami des Lois printing of "Lettre d'un Juif." Then, there are the May 1799 newspapers. The Vossische Zeitung speaks of "das Reich von Jerusalem." The True Briton, The Star, the Lloyd's Evening-Post, The Times, the Evening Mail, The Observer, The Selector, and Bell's Weekly Messenger all talk about "the Kingdom of Jerusalem." In the Allgemeine Zeitung, the word is "das Königreich von Jerusalem." And, as quoted in the Journal de Francfort and the Journal Politique de l'Europe, the Gazette de Hambourg refers to "le royaume de Jérusalem."

This is a Christian rather than a Jewish term. In the Jewish Bible, there is no Israelite or Jewish "kingdom of Jerusalem." The Jewish Bible has many reverential references to the city of Jerusalem, but for geopolitical taxonomy famously focuses on the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and on the persistent idea of the "Land of Israel" (Heb: אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬ Eretz Yisrael).

By contrast, some Christian Bibles mention the "kingdom of Jerusalem" at least once in the supersessionist Book of Esdras: "Thus saith the Lord unto Esdras, Tell My people that I will give them the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which I would have given unto Israel." Historically, that passage sufficed for naming the medieval, Catholic Crusader state, the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Thus, on May 22, 1799, the millenarian phrase "empire" or "kingdom" of Jerusalem was purposely suppressed in Le Moniteur and Le Propagateur and replaced by "l'ancienne Jérusalem"; and in the Journal de Paris by "leur ancienne capitale."

Jerusalem or "David's City" is juridically just an historic, municipal toponym in the alleged Napoleon letter of April 20, 1799. There, "Israelites" are twice saluted as "rightful heirs of Palestine." By contrast, there in no "Palestine" in Lettre d'un Juif, where "Jews" and "Israelites" are to be restored to "the homeland" (la patrie). Anonymous also incidentally mentions "the Holy Land" (la Terre sainte). But more to the point, Lettre d'un Juif specifically points to Jerusalem as "this sacred city" (cette cité sacrée) and showcases the extraordinary millenarian expression, l'empire de Jérusalem.

Is it merely coincidental that l'empire de Jérusalem, as a clearly-political term in Lettre d'un Juif, so closely matches Cevdet Pasha's account of a contemporary revolutionary proclamation calling on Jews everywhere to come together to agree on "establishing a Jewish government in Jerusalem" (قدس شريفده بر يهود حكومتى تشكيل)? Also striking is the use of such markedly-political "Jerusalem" nomenclature across Lettre d'un Juif and fifteen out of our nineteen May 1799 publications, reporting the Napoleon proclamation to the Jews.

We have seen that Napoleon, already in 1797, was using agents in the Ottoman lands to secretly distribute revolutionary proclamations, pamphlets, poems, letters, leaflets, songs, engravings, etc. This wide-ranging communications program probably included one or more proclamations referring specifically to both Jews and a Jewish kingdom or government in Jerusalem. The circulation of these Jewish proclamations perhaps began earlier than September 1797, just as suggested in the account by General Desaix. Such a propaganda initiative was importantly corroborated by Mallet du Pan; and then explicitly confirmed by Cevdet Pasha, based on the Ottoman sources available to him in Constantinople.

Napoleon never disavowed

During more than five years as an exile on Saint Helena, Napoleon persistently combed through the back issues of Le Moniteur. He would thus have been reminded of the amazing story of the proclamation to the Jews, published there on May 22, 1799. Nonetheless, he notably never disavowed this particular news item. To the point, around 1819, his own account of the "Syrian" campaign repeatedly refers to Jews, but most carefully says nothing about issuance to them of any "proclamation."

Before his May 1821 death, Napoleon had more than two decades, during which he could easily have denounced as fake news, the May 1799 newspaper reports about his proclamation to the Jews. And, he had incentive to do so. The end of the French Revolution (November 1799) coincided with more open expression of hatred towards Jews, across Europe. Such antisemitism became even stronger in the reactionary era, immediately after Napoleon's final fall (1815). Then, repudiating the proclamation story would have flattered Catholic opinion. Arguably, a specific denial of authorship would have been advantageous to Napoleon, both while he was in power and after he left office. Then, disavowal might perhaps have enhanced restoration odds for himself or his son.

Thus, we must ask: Why did Napoleon refrain from tarring these May 1799 reports as fake news? Maybe he remained silent from a reasonable fear that, despite having deliberately burned the official papers, perhaps there might still survive some other evidence, proving that he had indeed issued one or more invitations to the Jews to return to their ancestral homeland.

Age-old messianism stimulated  

Faithfully repeating from Le Moniteur, a fanciful figure that multiplies by eight the troop numbers under Napoleon, La Décade philosophique salutes "invincible Bonaparte" as "master of Syria" and revisits the proclamation story (May 29, 1799):
At the head of an army of one hundred thousand men, [Bonaparte] has proclaimed the delivery of Jerusalem and Judea, and calls back to their ancient homeland the Hebrews dispersed on the planet. Who knows? Perhaps they are going to see in him the Messiah, and soon twenty prophecies will have predicted the happening, the epoch, even unto the circumstance of his coming. It is at the least very probable that the Jewish People will reconstitute itself as the body of a nation, that the Temple of Solomon will be rebuilt.
The invitation to the Jews is also sincerely believed by The True Briton. For this reason, Napoleon is mocked with the wry suggestion that the revolutionary general has just sent a message to longtime, millenarian enthusiast Richard Brothers, then confined in a private insane asylum in Islington (May 30, 1799):
Buonaparte, we hear, has sent a pressing invitation to Brothers, to come and assist him in the re-establishment of the Jewish Kingdom; but to this invitation the Prophet has given a peremptory refusal, declaring that the restoration of the Jews, and the rebuilding of the Temple, can never be the work of so ungodly a Philistine.
By contrast, there is no hint of humor in a report from Bell's Weekly Messenger (June 9, 1799):
Private advices from Syria, by way of Italy, state, that such hath been the enthusiasm of the Jews, on Buonaparte's inviting them to their promised Restoration, that numbers from all parts flock to his standard, and that he has whole regiments of them training to war in his armies.

From Hamburg, Berlin, London, Frankfurt, Augsburg, Mannheim, Munich, and Paris -- this blockbuster news spreads across Europe and beyond. Thus, Director Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès gets a pertinent letter from a revolutionary called Desgranges (June 14, 1799):
Is it true that Bonaparte is now master of the Asiatic provinces of the sultan? Is it true that he has recalled the Jews of Asia and Africa back to Jerusalem? Would it not be possible to send the Jews of Europe there too? Great and dangerous [Christian] prejudices would fall with the rebuilding of the Temple of the Israelites. They are no more than brokers, so their emigration would not do any harm to our industry. Commerce would not suffer.
Desgranges urges the Revolutionary French Republic to collect three hundred million francs as a service charge for returning the Jews to Jerusalem. He is sure that Jews there would then fight for France with full enthusiasm. "This People would be an ally for us in that part of the world. The navigation of the Red Sea would be guaranteed to us."

The "restoration of the Jews" is also a recurring topic in the 1799 Gentlemen's Magazine of London. Thus, we can better understand a London report in the Wiener Zeitung (July 17, 1799). This says the British House of Lords (June 20th) heard "Lord Radner" (more likely Lord Radnor) condemn secret clubs, free masons and Jacobin societies for propagating the subversive idea of inviting the Jews to gather themselves together to restore "their chimerical Jerusalem."

In Le Moniteur, the proclamation story is credited by "David" who offers a lengthy, informative, and speculative article about "Bonaparte's Probable Conquest of the Ottoman Empire" (De la conquête probable de l'empire ottoman par Bonaparte). Most likely inspired by the aforementioned, November 1798 essay by Volney, "David" imagines Napoleon fighting his way back to Europe overland, by taking Constantinople, and freeing all the subject Peoples of the Ottoman Empire (June 27, 1799): "It wasn't only to deliver to the Jews their Jerusalem that Bonaparte has conquered Syria." (Ce n'est pas seulement pour rendre aux juifs leur Jérusalem que Bonaparte a conquis la Syrie.)

A contemporary Berlin pamphlet portrays a debate between a Christian theologian and a Jew. The latter is presented as saying (1799): "All the newspapers speak as one about Bonaparte's conquest of this holy place and add, almost seriously, that he conquered it for the Jews."

The proclamation news is also well known to German philosopher, theologian, poet and playwright Johann Gottfried von Herder whose command of Hebrew language and literature is solid. His essay Die Bekehrung der Juden (The Conversion of the Jews) is first printed in 1802, but originally written perhaps as early as 1800. Herder begins by briefly referring to the pertinent 1799 written debate among David Friedländer, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Abraham Teller. Thereafter, Herder reviews some secular, practical arguments for either toleration or the return of the Jewish People to its aboriginal homeland. With regard to the latter possibility, he writes sardonically: "Good luck to them if a Messiah-Bonaparte may victoriously lead them there; good luck to them in Palestine!" These words mock both the Jews and Napoleon. But, there is absolutely nothing in Herder's remarks that doubts the truth of the proclamation story, which is universally believed in 1799.

Portrait of Pope Pius VI by Pompeo Batoni (1775).
Revolutionary hatred for the Roman-Catholic Church
led to creation of the Roman Republic (February 15, 1798).
Pope Pius VI was forcibly exiled to France where he died in August 1799.

The proclamation in Prague

Orthodox Jew, anonymous "B" addresses a long letter to the head of Prague public security, the Stadthauptmann Joseph, Count Wratislaw von Mitrowitz. B denounces Prague members of the schismatic sect of Jacob Frank for constituting a secret society with dangerous sympathies for "freedom," as advocated by the French Revolution (June 27, 1799):
The overthrow of the papal throne [February 1798] has given their [Frankist] daydreams plenty of nourishment. They say openly, this is the sign of the coming of the Messiah, since their chief belief consists of this: Sabbatai Zevi was savior, will always remain the savior, but always under a different shape. General Bonaparte's conquests gave nourishment to their superstitious teachings. His conquests in the Orient, especially the conquest of Palestine, of Jerusalem, his appeal to the Israelites is oil on their fire (sein Aufruf an die Israeliten ist Öhl auf ihrem Feuer).
Here, the explicit reference to "Palestine" and Bonaparte's "appeal to the Israelites" prompts a question: Is B perhaps pointing to the alleged Napoleon letter of April 20th instead of (or in addition to) the at least seventeen May 1799 newspaper reports of a "proclamation" to the Jews? No definite answer, because B elsewhere freely oscillates between the terms "Jews" and "Israelites."

What does B's testimony actually prove? It shows firstly that, by summer 1799, Prague Jews certainly know about Napoleon's appeal and/or proclamation; and secondly, that informer B presumes that Count Wratislaw too is already aware of this amazing story. But, B never alleges that local Frankists are circulating copies of Bonaparte's appeal to the Israelites. Nor does B suggest that they have themselves forged such a document. Furthermore, B twice over specifically says he does not think local Frankists capable of treason.

Pertinently, forging such fake letters in the Habsburg Empire at that time would indeed have amounted to the crime of treason. This assessment rests on the then "state of war" between France and Austria; the particularly belligerent passages in the biblical Book of Joel, to which both Napoleon and Rabbi Aaron point; and also on the Rabbi's explicit call to arms.

The Habsburg Emperor Francis II was then afraid of revolutionary subversion and always anxious about the loyalty of his close to half-million Jewish subjects. Nonetheless, some writers of the last few decades have missed the mark in postulating an improbable scenario involving no more than the local police in Prague. Why improbable? Because these Hebrew letters were an important national-security matter that, in the Habsburg Monarchy, fell squarely within the purview of the Polizeihofstelle in Vienna.

Nor can we possibly ignore the mega-fact that, in 1799, the Austrian police did not arrest the Prague Frankists, for either serious political crimes or lesser offenses. This last circumstance weighs heavily due to the tragic precedent of the Hellenic patriot Rigas. We have already seen that Rigas was sent to his death in Ottoman Belgrade, because he had been caught in Habsburg Trieste (December 1797) with three wooden chests full of revolutionary proclamations.

However, B did advise Count Wratislaw to regularly read Frankist mail and to search their leader's home for seditious papers on a Saturday afternoon. For this reason, these last eighty years, there has been speculation about the possibility of some sort of a link joining all three of the local Frankists; the Prague police; and the Orthodox-Jewish Fleckeles family, whose handwritten document yields the text for the 1939 German-language typescript.

If so, we must also take into account the realities of 18th-century communications. Specifically, Napoleonic propaganda leaving Ottoman Syria on April 20th most definitely has enough time (75 days) to reach any point in Central Europe by July 4th. That is the first day that Count Wratislaw can receive B's advice, because B adds a postscript saying he held back mailing until July 4th.

With this in mind, let us provisionally accept the entirely unproven hypothesis that, aimed at local Frankists, was a subsequent Prague police raid or postal interception that netted the original letters said to be from Napoleon and the Jerusalem rabbi. Even in that purely imaginary scenario, there is still no logical reason to presume forgery rather than faithful Frankist transmission of an authentic text, truly from Napoleon in the Mideast. To the point, Kabbalists, Sabbateans and Frankists in the Ottoman Empire then focused on Napoleon, and always had contacts with Jews in Italy and other parts of Europe.

Also consistent with authenticity is the conduct of the Prague Fleckeles family which treasured the document for four generations. The text of the 1799 German-language translation reached the 20th century among the papers of Jewish community leader (Gemeindevorsteher) Wolf Fleckeles. Perhaps he got the document from his older brother, the distinguished Orthodox Rabbi Eleazar Fleckeles. If so, access to this highly-sensitive, official German translation probably came via Eleazar's longtime, close Christian friend, Karl Fischer. The strong ties between Karl and Eleazar are historically well substantiated.

As Imperial and Royal Censor, Reviser and Translator in Hebrew, Karl's jurisdiction was not limited to Prague. For example, he sometimes approved Hebrew books that were printed in other parts of the Habsburg Monarchy. Moreover, for the Vienna Polizeihofstelle, he from time to time translated secretly-intercepted, Hebrew-language letters that had been addressed to Jews in Prague or elsewhere. Thus, Karl likely translated into German, the Hebrew letters of April 1799. These, the Austrian police had somehow discovered, perhaps elsewhere in the Habsburg lands. Maybe, the sole connection between the 1799 letters and Prague was the fortuitous circumstance that the Bohemian capital was Karl's home base, and also venue for his warm friendship with Eleazar.

The Fleckeles brothers, Eleazar and Wolf, certainly never had the Hebrew-language originals. To the point, if ever they had those originals in Hebrew, they would certainly never have translated them into German, which would have been counterproductive. Pertinently, they could read Hebrew fluently, and German was too accessible to the Austrian police. Thus, we can reasonably suppose that, at some time from 1799 until Eleazar's death in 1826, Karl gave his trusted companion Eleazar an illicit opportunity to secretly hand copy the official German translation.

But Karl would have been unlikely to ever share the Hebrew-language originals: firstly, because such texts in Hebrew were too great a threat to Austrian security; and secondly, because the originals probably had to be returned to the Polizeihofstelle for burning. We have already seen that such destruction was the fate of the Greek original of the 1797 Rigas proclamation, and also of any foreign materials relating to the 1806 invitation to Austrian synagogues to attend Napoleon's Grand Sanhedrin.

The Fleckeles family always believed the text to be truly from Napoleon. Otherwise, they would never have risked retaining such an inflammatory paper. They would have made no such dangerous effort to keep anything they thought to be just a Frankist fabrication. To the point, they could have had no illusions about a harsh reactionary regime that had already jailed Eleazar for several days in 1799, for causing unrest among Prague Jews, due to his strong Orthodox opposition to Frankism. For decades, the Fleckeles family also knew that the Austrian police would severely punish possession of such a seditious screed, whether genuine or a Frankist forgery.

Moreover, a 1799 Frankist forgery is unlikely, because broader 18th-century Frankism is very different: on the one hand, from B's highly colored characterization of local Frankists as stubborn Sabbateans; and, on the other hand, from the mainline revolutionary concepts in the handwritten text, so reverentially preserved by the Fleckeles family. This conclusion is clear from a glance at the principal messages then dispatched from Frankist headquarters at Offenbach, near Frankfurt.

Handwritten in Hebrew (often in red ink), the infamous "red letters" of 1798-1800: say nothing about either Sabbatai Zevi or Napoleon, as Messiah or otherwise; contradict the French Revolution's strong anti-Catholic animus, by repeatedly urging Jews to convert to Roman Catholicism; include just one incidental reference to Jerusalem, but not as destination; and spectacularly lack emphasis on return to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬). According to the Frankists, ancient Jerusalem would only be rebuilt at the very end of time. By sharp contrast to Sabbatai Zevi, Jacob Frank and most of his followers were cool to the idea of the Jewish People going back to the Mideast. For Frank, Poland was the Promised Land.

Highlighting Jews & the "Temple of Solomon"

Months before the April 20th letter (Zuschrift) and the at least seventeen May 1799 newspaper items about the "proclamation," the dignified phrase "la nation juive" (the Jewish People) came easily to Napoleon's pen. For example, from his Cairo headquarters, he ordained (September 7, 1798): "Sabbato Adda and Telebi di Figura are named high priests of the Jewish People" (grands prêtres de la nation juive). As the object of respect, "la nation juive" featured again in his December 19, 1798 order confirming the privileges of the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai.

In 1798, he showed respect for the Jewish People, partly in conformity with revolutionary ideology and partly because he could reasonably imagine that he might soon need some help from Mideast Jews. For example, urgently required cash might perhaps come from famously rich Jewish families like the Picciotto (Aleppo) and the Farhi (Damascus). Such a supposition rests squarely on Napoleon's track record in Italy. In spring 1796, his impoverished army there had been bankrolled with three million francs in discreet loans from Jewish financiers in Genoa. In 1797-8, part of the money for the French Army of Italy was provided by longtime papal banker, Moses Vita Coen, a Jew from Ferrara.

احمد جزار پاشا
The Bosnian Ahmet Cezzar Pasha
won great fame in Europe and the Mideast
as the local Ottoman commander who stubbornly

withstood Napoleon's 1799 siege of Acre.

In his own account of the "Syrian" campaign, Napoleon chose to refer to the Jewish agents sent to Damascus and Aleppo and to "a vague hope" that was "animating" local Jews when spring arrived in 1799. In the third person, he wrote (around 1819): "News was circulating among them that, after taking Acre, Napoleon would present himself in Jerusalem where he would reestablish the temple of Solomon." This recollection seems to be Napoleon's admission that, during the "Syrian" campaign, he already knew that some Jews regarded him to be the Messiah.

What Napoleon himself had probably been thinking back in 1799 was perhaps revealed more clearly in Paris in the year following his return from the Mideast. As First Consul of the Republic, he told the Council of State (August 16, 1800): "If I governed a nation of Jews, I would reestablish the temple of Solomon." Napoleon had there been making a broader point about governing to please the majority as "the way to recognize the sovereignty of the people." Thus, in this important democratic context, he chose to rhetorically offer posterity (alongside three other examples) the startling hypothesis of a majority Jewish country centered on the Temple in Jerusalem.

1798 Jewish peoplehood in vogue

As seen above, there were public-policy precedents for the initiative for the Jews which Napoleon is alleged to have made in Ottoman Syria. The fascinating 1798 news of Napoleon's Mideast invasion was widely discussed alongside the hypothesis of a return of the Jews to their aboriginal homeland. This was a theme that had already been championed by Joachim Le Breton in the April 19th number of La Décade philosophique, and by Anonymous in the remarkable Lettre d'un Juif (June 8th). This "Letter from a Jew to his Brethren" was also widely read in an integral English translation, first published in the St. James's Chronicle of London (July 14-17, 1798). Moreover, both pieces were soon reprinted in French in London, in Paris Pendant L'Année 1798 (Paris During the Year 1798). Therein, the anti-revolutionary editor Jean-Gabriel Peltier reflected (December 1798):
Re-establishment of Jerusalem: Among the extraordinary events which have occurred in the political world at the end of the 18th century, the return of the Jews to their former homeland would not be the least marvelous. Just a short time ago, the idea would have appeared chimerical, though throughout the centuries the Jews never stopped religiously keeping that hope. Today, the possibility of this happening attracts attention, and it does not seem distant from coming to pass.
Thus, both before and after Napoleon's fleet sailed for Egypt (May 19, 1798), prominently published are some semi-official strategic points and propaganda particularly sympathetic to the idea of Jewish peoplehood and explaining how the Revolutionary French Republic can richly gain by sponsoring the return of Jews to their ancestral homeland.

This same calculation appears in the anonymous, Bonaparte in Cairo (Bonaparte au Caire), a rapidly written, "current affairs" book rushed into print in Paris at the very end of 1798 or the start of 1799. There, France's intention to colonize Egypt is reaffirmed. Regarding restoration to the Jewish People (la nation juive) of "their land of origin," it is argued: "The conqueror of Egypt is too good a judge of men to misunderstand the advantages which could be derived from this people in the execution of his vast plans." The pertinent passage also appears verbatim in the Journal de Paris (December 13, 1798).

By early 1799, the restoration of the Jews is a current topic linked to Napoleon in Egypt. Thus, a February 20th report from Lucerne describes spirited legislative debate, as to whether to accord local Jews equal rights as citizens of the Helvetic Republic. The pertinent account is from the Allgemeine Zeitung (February 28, 1799):
Against these grounds of [humanitarian] consideration, now erupted especially the unwillingness of the majority, which sank to the most unworthy outbursts. For example, Elmlinger advised that all the Jews ought to be dispatched to Buonaparte, so that he could lead them to their Kingdom of Jerusalem, where they could no longer harm anyone with their cheating and lying.

Two February 1799 letters to the Directory

The seasoned Irish revolutionary Thomas Corbet sent from Lorient in Brittany (February 17, 1799) to the principal Republican leader, Director Paul Barras, a plan for return of the Jewish People to "Palestine," after initial settlement in French Egypt. Pointing to Napoleon in Egypt and also to the wider war against England and its allies, Corbet compared the long-suffering Jewish People to the oppressed Irish and Poles. Also hoping to be free, the Jews were said to be waiting "with impatience for the time of their rebirth as a Nation" (Ils attendent avec impatience l'époque de leur rétablissement comme une Nation).

Like Napoleon, Corbet was alive to the military value of Jews. Thus, he suggested enlisting Jews into French shipbuilding, the navy and the army, so that they could learn the skills needed "to repress the Syrian" (pour réprimer le Syrien). Firstly, Corbet thought that a large number of Jews in Egypt would help France by serving as "a barrier against the Arabs and the other barbarians" (une barrière contre les arabes et les autres barbares). Secondly, Corbet argued that, from this first step into French Egypt, the Jews could make a second step to Palestine.

There, they might be for France "a solid pillar" (une colonne solide) of a new revolutionary order that would regenerate the Mideast in the period after the "decrepit and fallen empire of the Ottomans." Moreover, from a Protestant family, Corbet naturally understood the French Revolution's principled fight against the reactionary Catholic Church, for centuries prime vector for the bacillus of antisemitism.

Another reflection of the public's fascination with the Egyptian campaign was information which fellow Director Merlin de Douai got from Commissioner François, a senior official in northern France. François troubled to report a conversation with a Jew from Germany (probably meaning a French citizen who was an Ashkenaz, rather than a Sepharad).

According to this Jew, Europe's Jews viewed Napoleon as the Messiah whose coming would trigger the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple. The Jew also said that 1.5 million Jews were awaiting Napoleon's signal to leave for the Mideast. The counsel from Commissioner François was simultaneously strategic and skeptical (February 28, 1799):
One can derive a great deal from these people by flattering their religious prejudices. I leave it to your wisdom either to work to develop this idea if you think it of some value, or to just laugh it off as a joke.
Time, distance and Britain's Royal Navy combined to ensure that these letters from Corbet and François were then most probably unknown to Napoleon who for months on end received very little wartime news from France. But these two February letters could well have been among the factors that inspired the Directory to:
  • perhaps order French revolutionary agents in Europe to expertly forge the alleged Napoleon letter, dated April 20, 1799; and
  • permit Le Moniteur and other Paris newspapers to authoritatively spread, on May 22, 1799, the extraordinary news that Napoleon had issued a proclamation to the Jews.

Tactics for wartime advantage?

The stunted imagination of antisemites automatically sees Jews as either negligible or some sort of a "problem." By contrast, as thoroughgoing opportunists, the Directors were more likely to ask themselves how they and France could benefit.

La Décade philosophique's elite readership had already received (April 19, 1798) the impressive statistic that worldwide there were close to three million Jews, of whom up to 130,000 were said to be in the Mideast. For sure, the Directors knew that those "close to three million" Jews lived mostly in countries hostile to France. For example, there were then close to half a million Jews in the Habsburg Monarchy, which was a particularly stubborn opponent of the Revolution. Thus, publishing striking propaganda to win Jewish support for the Revolutionary French Republic was for the Directory a shrewd tactic to gain wartime advantage.

Such secularism, cynicism, and readiness to exploit were also Napoleon's hallmark. To the point, Bourrienne wrote that Napoleon was only interested in religion to the extent that it had some political utility. For his 1798 invasion of Egypt, Napoleon repeatedly told local Muslims that the French were now similar to them in religion, because the Revolution had rejected the Holy Trinity, retaining belief in just the one God, exactly as required by Islam.

Less than a week before Napoleon left Cairo for France, the same theological gambit featured in his letter of peace overtures to Grand Vizier Kör Yusuf Ziyaüddin Pasha, then with the Ottoman army in Syria (August 17, 1799): "The Sublime Porte, which was the friend of France as long as that Power was Christian, waged war against her the moment that France by her religion drew herself closer to Islamic belief."

Role for a Jewish Republic?

Potential help from Jewish bankers (as noted above) was not the only practical reason that Napoleon might have had for discreetly wooing Jews, including during the 1799 "Syrian" expedition. In his own history of his war in the Mideast, the strategic importance of the Holy Land was linked to Egypt. For example, Napoleon judged that Cyrus had "protected the Jews and had their Temple rebuilt," because he was thinking about conquering Egypt from the east. Around 1819, Napoleon also wrote that Alexander the Great, similarly attacking from the east, "sought to please the Jews so that they might serve him for his crossing of the [Sinai] desert." This important strategic perspective is that of a general who in early 1799 had to mount an offensive into the Holy Land, inter alia, because it was then emerging as a staging ground for a Turkish attack on the French in Egypt.

It does not stretch the truth to say that the geopolitical logic, which Napoleon articulated around 1819, tacitly includes the converse proposition -- namely, that a sister Jewish Republic in the Holy Land could have served to guard the eastern gateway to an Egypt permanently dominated by France. Thus, during 1797, his gradually increasing intent to invade Egypt was probably the first stimulus for his early propaganda efforts aimed at the Jews of the Ottoman Empire.

Make no mistake, the Napoleon of 1796-9 famously practiced raison d'état pragmatism that was essentially non-discriminatory in its opportunistic exploitation of national feeling. Then, his overall stance towards the Jews was arguably consistent with his characteristic modus operandi towards other Peoples. This was well put by Eduard von Wertheimer who was a distinguished Austro-Hungarian diplomatic historian (1883):
Napoleon had a system of politics. He used, as a powerful weapon against the States that he wanted to fight, those of their subject nations which he thought had not yet entirely gotten over the memory of their erstwhile independence. Himself a son of the revolution, he knew better than anyone else the power and influence which the idea of freedom exercises upon mankind. Accordingly, he never missed a moment, as soon as his own aims required it, to advertise to those nations that he came to restore their freedom and independence. But for sure, little did he care about the later disappointment that he prepared for these Peoples whom he dazzled and misguided with his promises. He just dropped them as soon as they had served their purpose.


After the coup of November 1799, Napoleon was no longer a revolutionary general. As First Consul, he famously made the French Republic's peace with the Roman-Catholic Church (1801). As Emperor of the French (from 1804) and King of Italy (from 1805), he similarly sought to regulate the situation of the Jews in France and parts of Italy. For example, in May 1806, he convoked an Assembly of Jewish Notables to meet in Paris as prelude to hosting a Grand Sanhedrin in February 1807.

This extraordinary exercise was aimed at Jews, not so much as a People internationally, but rather mostly as a religious confession domestically. By 1806-7, Napoleon's principal pertinent concern was no longer Jewish self-determination in the biblical homeland, but rather how Jews, as practitioners of a distinct faith, could better fit into French State and society.

Nonetheless, accounts of Napoleon's alleged invitation to the Jews to return to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) continued to echo. For example, Count Procop Lažanský, the Habsburg Governor (Statthalter) of Moravia, received from Nikolsburg a local police report claiming that some Orthodox Jews there imagined that the real reason Napoleon had called the Sanhedrin was to harness worldwide Jewish talent to stimulate France's flagging international trade (October 9, 1806):
France, therefore, wished to favor the Jews and for that reason to demand from the Turkish empire the city of Jerusalem together with the surrounding territories, in order to set up and restore the seat of the Israelite People there.
Around the same time, the county administrator (Kreishauptmannof Časlau (Čáslav) in Bohemia reported the views of Orthodox Jews in his district. They felt that Napoleon's Sanhedrin would not be able to restore the biblical purity of Judaism, without first satisfying the essential requirement of rebirth of the Jewish Commonwealth in the Promised Land.

If not from the Ottoman Empire then most certainly from a variety of European publications, the astonishing 1799 story that Napoleon had issued a proclamation to the Jews was widely believed at that time, and thus made its own way through history. Then rapidly rippling through Christendom and also across world Jewry, this exciting tale powerfully stimulated ancient messianic dreams. Whether factually accurate or not, the dramatic news of the proclamation permanently strengthened belief in the practical political possibility of Jewish restoration and renewal in the aboriginal homeland.


Very little historical evidence would be required to convince those who warmly welcome the idea that Napoleon issued one or more invitations or proclamations to the Jews. By contrast, those who viscerally reject the notion are unlikely to be convinced, even by a very substantial amount of evidence. The persistent reality of psychological bias is a powerful fact of life.

For the writing of history, there is no professional requirement that there must always be one completely-conclusive document, directly derived from an official archive. Historians are obliged to consider all sorts of evidence, from a wide variety of sources. Moreover, it is well known that government archives are by definition especially subject to the possibility of official censorship and manipulation, as for example already set out in the preface.

Nor are historians normally required to provide 100% ironclad proof. Rather, the minimum standard for the writing of history regularly demands carefully weighing all the evidence to determine the balance of the probabilities. Dictated by common sense, this is the same minimum standard of proof normally employed in everyday life, journalism, politics, government, and civil litigation in common law jurisdictions.

By contrast, in a criminal trial, the prosecution is normally required to prove the accused guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." But, that very rigorous, minimum requirement of the criminal law does not regularly apply to the writing of history, where the preponderance of the evidence normally suffices. Nonetheless, it is a well-known trick of rhetoric to try to shift to some higher, minimum standard of proof for arguing against the establishment of a proposition that is strongly disliked.

Does the preponderance of the evidence objectively suggest that Napoleon likely issued one or more proclamations inviting Jews to return to their aboriginal homeland? I think so. However, the final judgment is yours to make, if you too have patiently weighed all the pertinent evidence.